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HomeJusticeBujumbura Court upholds Floriane Irangabiye, Burundi’s WPFI recedes

Bujumbura Court upholds Floriane Irangabiye, Burundi’s WPFI recedes

Irangabiye was handed down a 10-year sentence and fined 1,000,000 Burundian Francs (approximately 500 Euros)

Summary:

  • Journalists and human rights have become Burundi’s justice preys
  • According to RSF Burundian journalists live in fear of being threatened, attacked or arrested
  • No official investigative media outlets based in the country as journalists are forced to go undercover

Bujumbura court of appeal upheld Floriane Irangabile sentence at the eve of World Press Freedom Day as the country’s freedom of expression outlived at sevens and sixes.

 Big Picture: Burundi lost 7 places on World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) receding to 114th from 107th in 180 ranked countries as Burundi press remain jeopardized toppled by Floriace Irangabiye detainment.

For the past 5 years, it has occupied the 159th (2019), the 160th (2020), the 147th(2021), then in 2022 the 107th and 114th in 2023 scoring 52.14 in 2023 and 55.74 2022.

 It recurred following a sentence delivered by Mukaza Court of appeal to keep in custody the mother of two over.

Her charges and Sentence: Irangabiye was convicted in January on charges of criticizing the government during a radio broadcast, in defiance of her most basic media freedoms.

 Irangabiye was handed down a 10-year sentence and fined 1,000,000 Burundian Francs (approximately 500 Euros).

 Her arrest: Floriane was arrested on August 30, 2022, by Burundi’s intelligence service in Bujumbura economic city. On January 2, the Mukaza High Court in Bujumbura convicted her of undermining the integrity of the national territory.

The bottom grounds of the allegations were never clarified and missed solid charges. Her lawyers insist that “there is no evidence” that her broadcasts she works for from neighboring Rwanda, which often included criticism of the Burundian authorities, “posed any threat to Burundi’s internal security,” said Eric Ntibandeze, her lawyer.

Advocates pointed out that her months-long detention without charge and the prosecutor’s failure to produce credible evidence of a crime during the trial amounted to flagrant violations of Burundian and international law.

 “After two months, the authorities’ failure to credibly charge Floriane Irangabiye with any crime is evidence that this case is in retaliation for her commentary and critical opinions,” said Muthoki Mumo, Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) sub-Saharan Africa representative

 Her appeal: her appeal was heard on the 30th March, 2023 in Muyinga (South Eastern of Burundi) and judgment delivered on 2 May, one day before World Press Freedom Day, in which she was upheld, the sentence ruled out by the lower court was kept.

 Hopes drowned: The trial conviction followed the release of the lawyer and former human rights defender Tony Germain Nkina was released after two years of imprisonment.

 It, in addition, followed the discharge of five human right defenders charged with state security crimes as hopes to release Floriane grew.

 Sadly, a few days after, the hopes faded away due to the unexpected court appeal.

 Burundi’s Media landscape: According to Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), it was once regarded as one of the most dynamic in the Great Lakes region, but it has become much poorer since a failed coup attempt in 2015 and the ensuing crisis.

 The socio-political crisis hit the then independent media outlets including radio and TVs stations. They were burnt to ashes or destroyed and their journalists forced to exile.

 As of 2020, according to human right activists, seven of over 60 exiled Burundian journalists were sentenced to twenty years in prison. Their properties were seized, further it is believed that they were not allowed to be assigned to any job in Burundi.

 Since then, the media industry has become dominated by either state-owned media houses or government’s affiliated staff.

 Only less than 3 media houses remain to some extent independent.

 No official investigative media outlets based in the country as journalists are forced to go undercover.

Safety: According to RSF Burundian journalists live in fear of being threatened, attacked or arrested. The violence may come from the authorities or from ruling party activists.

Further, local journalists have been moaning that authorities refuse to give them information when they are reached out or given long and tiring appointments for up to 2 months.

“Unless you are from some known media houses, it is hard to get an official point of view”, said M.A, a local journalist.

Few days ago, a journalist from Burunga was assaulted at night by local authorities. He was beaten and threatened according to a statement issued by Burunga.

As of 2021, the president of Burundi while speaking to the public mentioned two Burundian journalists based abroad, accusing them of destroying the country. Those responsible for violence against journalists enjoy total impunity.

He, therefore, contradicted himself according to journalists as he released a motto “Never Without Media” some months ago.

For journalists, the case hardly assures those exiled following the 2015 socio-politics crisis who have been tempted to regain home.

It discourages anyone as they might be trapped in the same allegation “tempting to disturb interior security”, said one of the local journalists.

Irangabiye had been living in Rwanda since 2015, where she hosted shows on Igicaniro, a web radio created by Fraternité, an association of Burundians living in self-exile, mainly in Rwanda.

She regularly invited well known Burundian figures – often government critics – onto her shows to discuss the country’s problems.

When she was arrested as reported by Action des Chrétiens pour l’abolition de la Torture (ACAT) She was accused of hosting a discussion on Radio Igicaniro, an online medium, in August 2022 with two critics of the Burundian authorities – Bob Rugurika, Director of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), and Maître Janvier Bigiramana, lawyer and National Coordinator of Tournons la Page (TLP-Burundi).

During the debate, the journalist, without explicitly advocating violence, strongly criticised the Burundian government and encouraged Burundians to oppose the authorities, which is a matter of freedom of expression

Behind the curtains, according to advocates, this is the main reason she is behind bars.

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