Since 19 April, freedom of expression has been under threat in Burundi. A bill to strengthen state control over journalists and the press was adopted by the National Assembly. This law could soon be ratified by the country’s president.
To support democracy and good governance, the press should be free to report the news without fear of intimidation. Transparency International’s chapter in Burundi, the Burundian Association of Consumers (ABUCO), along with 14 other civil society organisations working in the field of good governance have submitted a letter to the president to request the law be amended.
Restriction of source protection
In Burundi, journalists are harassed and arbitrarily arrested. If the bill is passed, it will make journalists criminally responsible within their profession. Under Article 16 journalists must reveal their sources if the government considers that the information may constitute a threat to public order, national security or the "moral and physical integrity of one or more persons." Article 20 limits the right to cover any topic related to the state or to public safety, or any topic which is deemed to threaten the national economy or constitute contempt or insult to the head of state.
Any journalist doing a story affecting the security of the state or the national economy faces a maximum sentence of five years and fines of up to 8 million Burundian francs (more than US$5,000). Finally, this law allows the National Communication Council (CNC) to control the news coverage by giving it the authority to issue press cards and accreditation for journalists wishing to cover the events.
Obstacle to good governance
Burundi has established an institutional framework for the fight against corruption by ratifying the African Union Convention on the Prevention and Fight against Corruption in 2005 and the UN Convention against Corruption in 2007.
Civil society organisations working for good governance and the fight against corruption welcomed the implementation of the National Strategy for Good Governance and Fight against Corruption (SNBGLC). The expected outcomes of this strategy are designed to facilitate access to information and allow journalists to practice their trade more freely.
However, the ratification of this law "would inevitably lead to entrenched corruption and the glorification of impunity. Indeed, economic crimes related to corruption and crimes of violation of human rights may not be revealed publicly by a media industry under pressure and that is censored," says Noel Nkurunziza, President of ABUCO.
"We call on the government to reject the bill in its current form and to guarantee the freedom of expression for all journalists in Burundi and to enable them to carry out their legitimate activities in full freedom and independence," he added.
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