DRAFTED BY: Ashly Bloxon
BURUNDI.– Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, the editor of a Burundian online news agency, Netpress, was released from prison on May 16, 2011.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, was arrested in July 2010 after publishing an article in his online news journal that questioned the Burundian army’s ability to respond to possible threats from the Somali militant group al-Shabaab. A passage from the article read, “Our defense and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and kill their compatriots rather than defend our country”.
He was charged with treason, defamation and in violation Burundi’s press law and transferred to Mpimba Central Prison, Bujumbura. Treason carries a life sentence in Burundi.
On Friday 13 May 2011, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was found not guilty of treason, but guilty under Article 50 of the press law for publishing ”information likely to harm the assets of the state and the national economy.”
He was sentenced to 8 months in prison and a fine of 100,000 Burundian francs. Kavumbagu was released on May 17, as he had already spent 10 months in pretrial detention.
Several human rights organizations have remained concerned about the grim restrictions on freedom of expression in Burundi. Kavumbagu’s conviction on a lesser charge shows the need for Burundi’s government to amend its press law.
Tom Rhodes, the East Africa consultant of the Committee to Protect Journalists stated, “The fact that a prosecutor in Burundi can still request a life sentence for a journalist simply for criticizing the Burundian security forces demonstrates serious weaknesses in Burundi’s approach to the press.”