Burundi: Journalist’s sentence must be quashed not simply reduced
08 Jan 2013
ARTICLE 19 is disappointed that the sentence of journalist Hassan Ruvakuki has been reduced rather than quashed by an appeal court in Burundi and urges that the legal battle must continue to clear his name.
ARTICLE 19 also calls on the authorities in Burundi to stop using the law as a weapon to intimidate journalists and silence the legitimate reporting of matters which are in the public interest.
Ruvakuki, who was jailed in June last year for with “participating in acts of terrorism” has had his sentence reduced to three years. The appeal court scrapped the terrorism charge, and decided instead, that the radio reporter was guilty of working with a criminal group.
“It is reassuring to hear that the sentence has been reduced but it is absolutely right that this case should go all the way to the Supreme Court. Hassan’s conviction is a crime against freedom of expression and should be quashed” said Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.
“It stands to reason that in a conflict scenario, it is probable that journalists will encounter groups that have been banned and voices that are critical of those who hold power. Reporting those voices does not mean that a journalist supports their cause. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right – people have to be able to hear conflicting views in order to make informed decisions. It is not acceptable for those in power to use the law to silence news that they do not wish to hear and suppress the reporting of views that do not accord with their own” she added.
Ruvakuki was charged, along with 13 others, in November 2011 with “participating in acts of terrorism” and given a life jail-term in June 2012 by the High Court. The Burundian government claimed that he was involved in an attack which took place in September 2011 on a village in eastern Cankuzo province, which is close to the border with Tanzania.
Ruvakuki, who worked for local radio station Bonesha FM as well as the French state broadcaster Radio France Internationale, was investigating reports of a new rebel group and interviewed Pierre Claver Kabirigi, a former police officer who claimed to be the leader of that group, the Front for the Restoration of Democracy-Abanyagihugu.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Burundi government to stop intimidating journalists and human rights defenders and to respect fundamental human rights including freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Furthermore, ARTICLE 19 calls for the review of the anti-terrorism legislation to ensure it conforms to internationally acceptable standards which do not disproportionately limit the right to freedom of expression.
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