Opposition politician found slain as government warns media ahead of 2020 elections
Burundian refugees continue to face myriad challenges, even in countries where they flee to for safety. On 3rd October 2019, nearly 600 Burundian refugees returned home from camps in Tanzania due to rising insecurity in the camps, where rapes, arrests and beatings have often been reported. Of the 10 interviewed by Reuters’ journalists, all indicated that they returned home voluntarily, hoping security would be better than it was in the camps.
Separately, the human rights situation in the country remains dire, even in state institutions, as a new report released by ACAT-Burundi on 10th October 2019 revealed violations and abuses in Burundian prisons. The report gives details on several cases of torture, including by members of the Imbonerakure dressed as members of the security committee of the prison, the obstruction of freedom to acquitted prisoners, and on violations of the right to health care.
On 30th October 2019, the United Nations Special Envoy to Burundi, Michael Kafando, announced that he planned to step down from the post he had held for two years, amid concerns over the impartiality of elections set for 2020. According to Kafando, "the situation in Burundi remains tenuous” with “growing political intolerance and attacks on civic and political freedoms” although he also noted that the security situation had improved, and that the government had put in place a "framework for political dialogue." A month before Kafando stepped down, Burundi had threatened to cut ties with him, leading the Security Council to abruptly scrap a meeting on the situation in the country.
Opposition party members continued to be targeted in the country. On 15th November 2019, it was reported that Marie Claire Niyongere,deputy leader of the women's wing of the main opposition party, Congress for Freedom (CNL) in Kiganda commune was killed after being raped, and her body dumped in a forest. Her body was found in a forest on 12th November with injuries to her neck and genitals. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, CNL party members have repeatedly been subjected to threats, arrests, torture and violence by government forces and the ruling party's youth wing, Imbonerakure.
On 17th November 2019, Agathon Rwasa, president of the country’s main opposition party CNL, confirmed his party’s bid for the 2020 general elections to be held in May. Rwasa denounced efforts by the ruling party to disband the party and called on administrators in municipalities to respect the rights and freedoms of citizens.
In separate developments, on 20th November 2019, US President Donald Trump wrote to the US Congress to advise that he was extending the state of national emergency against Burundi. The measure, which restricts US travel, business and aid to a designated country, was first imposed by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2015. It was introduced after Burundi plunged into political crisis after President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a controversial third term in office. The order notes that the situation in Burundi continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.
On 16th October 2019, the National Media Regulator-CNC presented a code of conduct to the Burundian media for the upcoming 2020 elections. The new code requires them to respect the Burundian Constitution, the Press Law and the law governing the CNC. Journalists and media covering the 2020 elections will be required to broadcast and publish balanced and accurate information. By signing the code, journalists also commit themselves not to publish any results different to those officially announced by the electoral commission. Some media and civil society organisations however viewed this as a move to control media coverage during the elections. On 21st November, Burundian Interior Minister, Pascal Barandagiye said that during the 2020 electoral period journalists would have to "line on the side of the government" and that the media would be expected not to “say everything.”
In yet another incident targeting journalists, on 22nd October 2019, four journalists from Iwacu newspaper and their driver were arrested and detained for allegedly undermining national security. The news team – reporter Christine Kamikazi, politics writer Agnès Ndirubusa, English service reporter Egide Harerimana, photojournalist Térence Mpozenzi and their driver Adolphe Masabarikiza – were arrested in Musigati commune of Bubanza province in the west of Burundi while travelling to cover unrest which erupted after gunmen crossed into the country from the Democratic Republic of Congo and clashed with security forces. Human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for the immediate and unconditional release of the journalists.
Arnaud Froger, the Head of RSF’s Africa desk said:
“These journalists were just doing their job by going to verify reports of armed clashes.”
A month later, on 20th November, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal ordered that the four journalists remain in detention while the driver was temporarily released.