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Burundi's president urged to allow re-opening of media outlets ahead of elections

Journalists with tape on their mouths gather on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day in Bujumbura, Burundi, 3 May 2015
Journalists with tape on their mouths gather on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day in Bujumbura, Burundi, 3 May 2015

AP Photo/Jerome Delay

This statement was originally published on freemedia.at on 22 June 2015.

The International Press Institute (IPI) today joined a coalition of international press freedom organisations in calling on Burundi's president to take steps to improve media freedom ahead of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

The leaders of 15 groups in an open letter urged President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is seeking a third term in office in a poll scheduled for July 15, to allow shuttered media outlets to reopen and operate without interference.

They also called on Nkurunziza to ensure that journalists and media workers who fled the country amid recent violence are allowed to return safely without the threat of prosecution or persecution. Parliamentary elections in the country are scheduled for June 29.

Burundi has seen unrest since Nkurunziza announced in April that he would seek another term. Clashes erupted between opposition activists and security forces, and in mid-May elements of the armed forces attempted to mount a coup, which ultimately failed. Media have reported that dozens have died in the violence, but the government has claimed those numbers are inflated.

The full text of the letter appears below.

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The undersigned press freedom, media development and human rights organizations are very concerned by the continued closure of independent media outlets and the consequent lack of access to reliable information in Burundi. Furthermore, we denounce the attacks and threats on journalists, media workers and media institutions.

This is particularly concerning given the scheduled upcoming legislative and presidential elections (June 29 and July 15 respectively). Free, fair, reliable and independent media play a crucial role in the electoral process and without it Burundians will not have the information they need to make informed decisions in the upcoming polls thereby undermining the credibility of these elections.

To that end, we call on the Burundian authorities to allow for the re-opening and functioning of independent media and allow them to operate from the Maison de la Presse or from wherever they may find facilities, given that the major radio stations have been destroyed. We also encourage the authorities to allow for the rebuilding and re-equipping of these media houses.

We also encourage the authorities to ensure that the more than 50 journalists and media workers who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries are allowed to return safely to Burundi without fear of prosecution or persecution.

Finally, we encourage dialogue between authorities and media as well as between authorities and opposition as well as between authorities and the United Nations Special Envoy to the Great Lakes to create conditions conducive to holding free, fair, inclusive and peaceful elections.

Signed:

Jesper Højberg, Executive Director, International Media Support
Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy
Leon Willems, Director, Free Press Unlimited
Caroline Giraud, Coordinator, Global Forum for Media Development
Tina Carr, Director, Rory Peck Trust
Ernest Sagaga, Head, Human Rights and Safety, International Federation of Journalists
Caroline Vuillemin, Director of Operations, Fondation Hirondelle
Alice Klein, President, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Daniel Calingaert, Executive Vice President, Freedom House
Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, Article 19
Tamsin Mitchell, Americas/Africa Researcher and Campaigner, PEN International
Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director, International Press Institute
Carina Tertsakian, Senior Researcher on Burundi and Rwanda, Human Rights Watch
Christophe Deloire, Secretary General, Reporters without Borders
Cyprien Ndikumana, Director General, Panos Grands Lacs

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