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Journalists defy media blackout on Gatumba massacre

Victims of a massacre carried out in a bar in the Burundian town of Gatumba on 18 September 2011. Journalists have been defying a government order to not report on the massacre
Victims of a massacre carried out in a bar in the Burundian town of Gatumba on 18 September 2011. Journalists have been defying a government order to not report on the massacre

Désiré Nimubona/IRIN

Journalists are courageously defying a government order not to report on the Gatumba shooting massacre that left more than 35 people dead in Burundi last month, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). It appears to be part of a pattern of censorship.

The mass execution of civilians occurred on 18 September in a pub in the northern town of Gatumba, near the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two days later, the government declared a media blackout on the important story, saying the media could "sow confusion, divide the population and incite to confrontation," CPJ reports.

On 28 September, Burundi's president told Voice of America that several suspects in the case have been arrested, but he gave no names or details as to motivations.

At least five radio stations have openly discussed the massacre in breach of the ban, according to RSF and CPJ. Burundi's Communication Minister Concilie Nibigira told CPJ she would investigate the violation.

Patrick Mitabaro, news editor at Radio Isanganiro, one of the stations investigating the massacre, told CPJ it's especially important for journalists to cover the case given that official investigations into previous killings of civilians have fallen far short of justice.

CPJ adds that the government has been intimidating journalists and broadcasters by summoning them to court for interrogations and censoring programmes. According to CPJ, independent journalists "believe the censorship order is part of an ongoing effort by government to silence critical reporting on sensitive issues such as corruption and criminality."

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