The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) protests the continuing detention of Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, editor of the online press agency Net Press, who was arrested on 17 July 2010. He is charged with treason on the basis of an article in which he suggested that the Burundian security forces would not be able to defend the country in the event of a terrorist attack. The WiPC believes that Kavumbagu is being held in violation of his right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Burundi is a state party. It is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
The following is an Urgent Action issued by Amnesty International on 6 December 2010 (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR16/004/2010/en/d47369b4-9e29-46b4-916b-ca3fcf23aca7/afr160042010en.html). PEN members are asked to send appeals following the guidance given in the alert as a matter of urgency.
Amnesty International Urgent Action - UA: 248/10 Index: AFR 16/004/2010 Burundi Date: 06 December 2010
BURUNDI: DEMAND RELEASE OF ONLINE EDITOR
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, the editor of a Burundian online news agency, Netpress, has been detained since July after suggesting that the Burundian security forces could not defend the country. He has not been tried and was denied a bail request on appeal in November.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu published an article on 12 July 2010, one day after suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, criticizing the capacity of Burundian security forces to protect the country from a terrorist attack. Somali Islamist armed group, al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the bombings in Uganda. They also threatened to attack Burundi in retaliation for Burundi's participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu's article said that "the anxiety has been palpable in Bujumbura and all those who have heard about [the bombings] yesterday in Kampala were convinced that if the al-Shabaab militants wanted to try ‘something' in our country, they would succeed with disconcerting ease, [as] our defense and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and kill their compatriots rather than defend our country." He was arrested on 17 July, questioned without a lawyer, charged with treason, and transferred to Mpimba Central Prison, Bujumbura.
Treason is a crime punishable by life imprisonment and is only applicable under Burundian law in time of war. Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has also been charged with defamation and violating Burundi's press law. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. His detention may detrimentally impact on the exercise of free expression in Burundi. It could increase self-censorship by other journalists to protect themselves from arbitrary arrest and detention.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu's bail request was rejected on 6 September. At the appeal on 9 November, his defence claimed that violating the press law and defamation do not justify preventative detention and that treason is not a valid charge. However, the Appeal Court of Bujumbura confirmed his pre-trial detention on 11 November. As of 6 December, his lawyers had not received a copy of the ruling and were waiting for the trial date to be announced.
Mpimba Central Prison is overcrowded and insanitary and conditions fall well below international standards.
• Interview with Kavumbagu published on the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Blog (13 December 2010): http://cpj.org/blog/2010/12/mission-journal-behind-bars-in-burundi.php
• Report by CPJ (9 December 2010): http://cpj.org/2010/12/cpj-meets-jailed-burundian-journalist-calls-for-hi.php