Posted 2010/7/20

Burundi: Arrest of journalist and human rights defender Mr Jean-Claude Kavumbagu

Journalist and human rights defender Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested for treason on 17 July 2010 in connection with the publication of two articles about the Burundian army. Jean-Claude Kavumbagu is editor of the online news agency, Net Press.

On 17 July, 2010, around noon, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested on his way to work by the Burundian police, led by Colonel Nikiza, police chief in the western region of the country, in the parking lot of the Net Press agency's office in Bujumbura. The arrest was carried out on the basis of a warrant signed by the Prosecutor of the Republic in Bujumbura, Mr Renovat Tabu. Following two hours of interrogation, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was taken to Mpimba Prison. Jean-Claude Kavumbagu reportedly faces charges of treason under Article 570 and 571 of the Criminal Code.

According to reports, he was interrogated regarding two articles published on 12 July 2010, which dealt respectively with a controversial military operation in the area of Kanyosha, which led to the deaths of civilians, and with the ability of the defence and security forces to prevent the possibility of an attack in Burundi by the al-Shabaab militia group, following attacks by the group in Uganda on 11 July 2010. This second article stated that “there was real concern in Bujumbura, all those who have heard about [the bombings] yesterday in Kampala were convinced that if the al-Shabaab militants wanted to try ‘something’ in our country, they would succeed with disconcerting ease, [given that] our defense and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and kill their compatriots rather than defend our country”.

Legal counsel for Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, who was not present during the questioning of the human rights defender, challenged the legality of his arrest, alleging that the conditions of preventive detention were not met because his client never received notice of any summons for questioning, which -if unanswered- would have justified the arrest. He also added that it is not justified by further investigations as these are not needed since articles have already been published. Finally, since the publication of the articles on 12 July there has not been any security incident that could justify this measure. Moreover, according to the provisions of the Criminal Code cited above, the crime of treason is only applicable in time of war.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has previously been subject to arrest four times because of his journalism and work as a human rights defender. Most recently, he was arrested in September 2008 on charges of defamation before being acquitted in March 2009. Front Line expresses its concern regarding the arrest and detention of Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, and considers this arrest as being motivated by his work as a journalist and human rights defender.

Front Line urges the authorities of Burundi to:

1.Immediately and unconditionally release Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, as Front Line believes that his arrest was based solely on his work as a journalist and human rights defender;

2.Immediately drop all charges against Jean-Claude Kavumbagu as manifestly unfounded, as it is believed they are solely the result of his legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression;

3.Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Jean-Claude Kavumbagu in all circumstances, and ensure that his treatment whilst in detention conforms to international standards, particularly the “Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form Detention or Imprisonment”, adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;

4.Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Burundi can carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisal, free of all restrictions or threats to their psychological and physical security.

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