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Journalists attacked and human rights researcher silenced during election violence

A rights researcher has been expelled from Burundi after releasing a report on political violence during elections.
A rights researcher has been expelled from Burundi after releasing a report on political violence during elections.

via Human Rights Watch

Political violence has intensified in Burundi with members of political groups settling scores just as a series of elections have begun to take place in the country, says Human Rights Watch in its latest report. In a punitive response, days after the report on election violence was released on 14 May, authorities ordered a Human Rights Watch researcher to leave the country by 5 June. Journalists covering election battles have also been attacked.

The report "We'll Tie You Up and Shoot You," based on four months of research by Neela Ghoshal, says violence is being "carried out by and against members of political parties." Most of the violence has involved the two leading contenders in the elections: the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) and the National Liberation Forces (FNL). Ghoshal has documented rights abuses by all sides in Burundi for close to three years.

The government's move is part of a wider crackdown in the run up to elections, which were delayed to 28 May, says ARTICLE 19. "The decision to expel Neela Ghoshal and intimidate journalists and human rights defenders is tantamount to reducing the democratic space in the country, particularly the right to freedom of expression, and this must desist."

Elections scheduled between 28 May and 7 September come after the end of a nearly 16-year civil war, from 1993 to 2009; they include presidential elections on June 28. CNDD-FDD and FNL are both former Hutu rebel groups that fought a largely Tutsi army during the war. The military conflict has shifted to a political competition for the support of the majority Hutu electorate.

Violent clashes between several party militants have taken place since September 2009, says the report. Fighting between CNDD-FDD and FNL members on 9 May resulted in the death of one activist. FNL members have been targeted as they walked the streets or directly in their homes, while other FNL members have abducted and beaten members of the ruling party. And the failure to hold perpetrators responsible has been particularly striking in episodes involving high-ranking officials.

Also, according to the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA), two journalists covering clashes between CNDD-FDD and FNL members on 23 May were attacked by youth allied with the ruling party.

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