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Radio journalists repeatedly summoned, fuelling hostile climate for media freedom

(RSF/IFEX) - 29 July 2011 - Reporters Without Borders condemns the harassment of two privately-owned radio stations, Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) and Radio Isanganiro, in the form of a series of summonses, one of the latest of which was a summons to RPA news editor Bob Rugurika to appear before the Bujumbura main court prosecutor's office today, his third summons in the past 11 days. The hearing was postponed until 1 August because of a lawyers' strike.

Two other journalists at RPA's regional bureau in the northern city of Ngozi, bureau chief Léonce Niyongabo and reporter Yvette Murekesabe, were summoned by a Ngozi prosecutor today for the purposes of "judicial investigation" and will be questioned again on 1 August. Radio Isanganiro news editor Patrick Mitabaro has been summoned to appear at the Bujumbura prosecutor's office on 1 August for "judicial investigation."

These summonses follow recent warnings from the National Council for Communication (CNC) to both radio stations over content that was also broadcast by other stations.

"Repeated judicial summonses and warnings by the CNC constitute harassment and intimidation of privately-owned media and fuel a climate of hostility to media freedom," Reporters Without Borders said. "RPA and Radio Isanganiro, which are critical of the government, are being singled out by the authorities. Other stations that have covered the same stories have been left in peace by the CNC. We urge the authorities to let these media and their journalists work freely."

RPA news editor singled out by prosecutors

Rugurika was questioned for an hour on 18 July by the state prosecutor over a report about an open letter which the spokesman of the opposition Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU), Pancrace Cimpaye, who is currently in exile, addressed to the president on 23 June. RPA said the prosecutor had described the station's report as an "insult to the state."

Rugurika was also criticised for a report that quoted passages from a speech by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on 13 June in which she referred to the Arab Spring. The prosecutor regarded the report as "inciting a popular revolt."

Rugurika received a second summons two days later, on 20 July. This time he was questioned about his coverage of a news conference that Chauvineau Mugwengezo, the spokesman of the opposition Alliance of Democrats for Change (ADC-Ikibiri), gave on 13 July to criticize hikes in water and electricity tariffs.

Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about the third summons (now rescheduled for 1 August), as it has learned that Rugurika's lawyer, François Nyamoya, was arrested yesterday for as yet unclear reasons. No charges have so far been brought against Rugurika but the court has announced that it has opened a case against him.

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