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Burundian reporter's conditional release allows him to travel, work

Alexander Niyungeko

Reporters Without Borders is pleased to learn that Hassan Ruvakuki, a radio reporter who was released on “health grounds” in March after 15 months in prison, has now been granted a formal “conditional release” that allows him to go back to work. The justice ministry ordered it on 16 October.

Ruvakuki, who worked for local radio Bonesha FM and Radio France Internationale's Swahili service, said he was “very happy” with the decision and thanked “all those people who have helped me with my release.”

“We are relieved that Ruvakuki is now officially free and allowed resume working as a journalist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “At the same time, we will monitor the conditionality of his release in an attempt to ensure that it does not represent too great a threat hanging over his journalistic work.

“While we welcome his release, we continue to maintain that Ruvakuki is innocent of the charges brought against him. All possible light must eventually be shed on this case so that he can be cleared of the suspicion that this conviction cast on him”

The justice ministry agreed to consider a conditional release if Ruvakuki withdrew his appeal against his conviction, which he did. On the grounds that he had served more than a quarter of his sentence, the ministry finally decided that his release would remain conditional for period twice as long as the part of his sentence that he did not serve.

As well as allowing him to go back to work, the decision allows him to move freely about the country and to travel abroad.

Ruvakuki's “administrative” release on health grounds was granted on 6 March, a few days before Burundi's president visited France.

Arrested in November 2011 shortly after returning from neighbouring Tanzania, where he had gone to cover a Burundian rebel group being formed there, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2012 on a charge of “participating in terrorist activity.”

This was reduced to three years in prison on appeal on 8 January 2013 after the charge was changed to “participating in an association formed with the aim of attacking persons and property.”

The authorities have never produced any evidence of his participation in the rebel movement.

Reporters Without Borders has always claimed Hassan Ruvakuki's innocence and has supported him since his arrest in 2011.

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