6 May 2011
The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) protests a Burundi State Prosecutor's 13 April 2011 request for a life sentence to be imposed on the editor of the online press agency Net Press Jean-Claude Kavumbagu on a charge of treason. Kavumbagu has been imprisoned since 17 July 2010 over 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 court is due to reach a verdict by mid June. 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 calls on the Burundian authorities to drop all charges against Kavumbagu and to release him immediately and unconditionally.
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).
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." The journalist was arrested on 17 July, questioned without a lawyer, charged with treason, and transferred to Mpimba Central Prison, Bujumbura. He was also charged with defamation and violating Burundi's press law. His application for bail was rejected in September and confirmed on appeal in November.
At a hearing on 13 April 2011, a state prosecutor asked a panel of judges to impose the maximum life sentence for treason on Kavumbagu. His defence lawyers called for his release on the basis that ‘treason' is only applicable at times of war and that during the bail appeal hearing in November 2010, a state prosecutor had already acknowledged that Burundi was not at war. They also argued that the prosecution's charges of defamation against the army and police were not applicable because the criminal code restricted the use of such charges to cases in which those allegedly defamed were individuals or groups of individuals, not institutional bodies. The court had two months (until mid-June) to reach a verdict.
Mpimba Central Prison, where Kavumbagu is detained, is overcrowded and insanitary and conditions fall well below international standards.
Kavumbagu was previously imprisoned in September 2008 and charged with defamation for an article in which he stated that the cost of President Nkurunziza's trip to see the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics caused some civil servants' salaries to be paid late.
For more information, see PEN International's previous Rapid Action alert (16 December 2010): http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/index.cfm?objectid=EF54D35D-3048-676E-26A31AFA4F9F9E69
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (14 April 2011): http://www.cpj.org/2011/04/burundi-seeks-life-sentence-for-kavumbagu.php
- 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