Voices in Danger: Why has a popular Burundian Journalist been charged with complicity to murder after reporting on a murder?

Bob Rugurkia's report on the murder of three elderly nuns has put him in the firing line

Anne Mortensen
Friday 20 February 2015 17:17
Bob Rugurika
Bob Rugurika

Dozens of Burundian civilians and media representatives took to the streets when authorities imprisoned popular journalist Bob Rugurika, Director of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), a longstanding private radio station that focuses on human rights issues, after he reported on the murder of three elderly Italian nuns. The journalist is known for his wit and humour and, despite life in prison, he has not lost his morale.

Since his arrest on 20 January, Rugurika has receive daily visits from supporters, friends and family despite being moved to Muramvya Prison 50km outside the capital Bujumbura. Authorities attempted to cut off Rugurika's lifeline to the outside world by placing him in solitary confinement, but the public's outcry forced authorities to release Rugurika from the 2 x 3 meter windowless cell.

One visitor reported Rugurika in prison as saying, “I hit where it hurts with revelations about the true murderers of three Italian nuns in September 2014 in Bujumbura.”

Rugurika claims that Burundian authorities demanded he reveal the source of his investigative reports that implicated high ranking secret service officials in the murder of three elderly nuns. According to Rugurika, he refused to hand over his sources.

However, the Prosecutor's office has accused Rugurika of complicity in assassination, violating the secrecy of an investigation and lack of public solidarity.

Patrick Spirlet, Ambassador of the European Union in Burundi, issued a statement saying: “The fundamental question is, what legal framework is being applied? We believe that in a case like this, the press law is the best framework for dealing with this kind of business.”

“Bob is one of the best journalists in Burundi has,” said Tom Rhodes, East Africa Representative for Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “Here we are seeing another case of Burundi authorities targeting the messenger as opposed to the criminal in question. Instead of following up on Radio Publique Africaine's (RPA) investigations, they silence RPA.”

This is not the first time the journalist has faced intimation. According to Rugururika, he was first thrown into the spotlight when RPA reported on the 2009 killing of the anti-corruption investigator Ernest Manirumva, ex-vice president of the Observatoire de Lutte Contre la Corruption et les Malversations Economiques - OLUCOME (Observatory for the Fight Against Corruption and Economic Embezzlement Malversation).

Following his report on the Manirumva murder, a series of threatening events prompted Rugurika to send a letter of appeal to President Nkurunziza in May 2012 requesting protection from two senior officials of the Service National des Renseignements, or National Intelligence Service (SNR) as well as the SNR Director who he said was “very angry” with him due to his reporting. Rugurika also reported that two unidentified individuals kept 24 hour watch on his family home.

“Burundi authorities have always been intolerant to any reporting that potentially implicates the government negatively —now that intolerance has reached a higher threshold as the country steps closer to elections this year,” said CPJ's Tom Rhodes.

I requested a response from the Burundi Office of Justice to points raised in this article, but they gave no reply.

According to CPJ, Burundi's climate of press freedom has deteriorated under President Pierre Nkurunziza in 2013 when he approved The Media Law which forces journalists to reveal sources and places heavy fines and prison sentences on coverage the government considers detrimental to state security or the local economy. Media Legal Defence Initiative and the National Union of Journalists in Burundi are currently challenging The Media Law in the Burundi constitutional court. A ruling is expected in March of this year.

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