Burundi journalist gets life sentence for 'terrorism'
6/20/2012 11:30:02 PM -
BUJUMBURA (AFP) - A Burundian court sentenced a journalist and 13 others to life in prison on terrorism charges Wednesday for a November attack launched from across the Tanzanian border, a ruling criticised by media watchdogs.
The sentence against journalist Hassan Ruvakuki, who works for French radio station RFI's Swahili service and local broadcaster Bonesha FM, is "startling" and "makes a mockery of the rights of the press in Burundi", Alexandre Niyungeko, head of the Burundian Journalists' Union, told AFP.
Ruvakuki was accused of planning an attack by an armed group on the eastern Burundian town of Cankuzo that left dozens dead and spreading news of it after.
Besides the 14 life sentences, nine other people accused of being accomplices in the attack received prison sentences of 15 years.
"We are extremely shocked by this verdict... which is as iniquitous as it is dishonourable, not only for justice in this country but for all countries," said RFI and watchdog Reporters Without Borders in a joint statement.
Ruvakuki's lawyer complained last year that he had been refused access to his client's file to see what he was accused of and that Ruvakuki had been held in secret in a military camp. He accused authorities of "trampling on" his client's rights.
Violence has rocked Burundi since the 2010 re-election of President Pierre Nkurunziza was rejected by the opposition.
A fresh wave of attacks last year raised fears that the small central African country, which has struggled to emerge from more than a decade of conflict that left 300,000 dead, could slide back into war.