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Journalists face legal action and trumped-up charges

A Burundian journalist critical of state security forces faces life in prison if convicted, after being arrested and charged with treason on 17 July, report Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). A month later, another journalist was arrested, imprisoned and charged with defamation after writing an article about government corruption, says Journaliste en danger (JED).

Jean Claude Kavumbagu, editor of the online news service Net Press, wrote an article critical of Burundi's security forces - in response to the 11 July bombings in Kampala, Uganda. The Somali insurgent group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the bombings and threatened to target Burundi because of the presence of Burundian troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

A well-known critic of the state, Kavumbagu wrote: "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." Charged with treason, he has been accused of weakening national security.

The day of his arrest, 15 radio stations in Bujumbura broadcast a simultaneous message calling for Kavumbagu's release.

"Burundi's vibrant press is tarnished every time authorities single out journalists solely on the basis that they have expressed opinions that are provocative or unpopular among government circles," said Human Rights Watch.

On 10 August, Thierry Ndayishimiye, editor of the Bujumbura-based private weekly "Arc-en-ciel", was thrown in prison and charged with defamation after writing about the embezzlement of US$110,000 by the director general of the National Board of Water and Electricity. He was released two days later.

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