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Burundi regulator warns Iwacu Press Group after police assault 2 of outlet’s journalists

By Committee to Protect Journalists - Africa
Burundi After two of its reporters were attacked, Iwacu Press Group received a warning letter June 6 from Burundi’s media regulator CNC, accusing the outlet of professional failings in recent political reporting. (Screenshot: YouTube: CPJ/Iwacu Press Group)
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After two of its reporters were attacked, Iwacu Press Group received a warning letter June 6 from Burundi’s media regulator CNC, accusing the outlet of professional failings in recent political reporting. (Screenshot: YouTube: CPJ/Iwacu Press Group)

Kampala, Uganda, June 17, 2024—Burundian authorities must desist from intimidating the independent news outlet Iwacu Press Group and swiftly investigate recent police attacks on two of the outlet’s journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

Iwacu received a letter on June 6 from Burundi’s media regulator, known by its French acronym CNC, accusing the outlet of professional failings in recent political reporting, including imbalance and failure to check sources’ credibility, according to a report published by the outlet and a copy of the letter reviewed by CPJ.

The warning came a day after two police officers attempted to detain Pascal Ntakirutimana, a journalist in charge of Iwacu’s political reporting, in the economic capital, Bujumbura, according to news reports and a report by the outlet.

In an opinion article published after the incident, Iwacu founder Antoine Kaburahe said that the incident did not follow “legal avenues” and likened it to a “nocturnal kidnapping” using “gangster methods.”

On May 22, a senior police officer assaulted Iwacu reporter Jean-Noël Manirakiza at a restaurant in the country’s political capital, Gitenga, according to news reports, including by Iwacu and a statement sent to CPJ by the outlet.

“Iwacu is a bastion of Burundian journalism, and these series of alarming incidents raise concern for the ongoing safety of its journalists,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Muthoki Mumo, in Nairobi. “Authorities should credibly investigate the reports that police officers physically attacked journalists Pascal Ntakirutimana and Jean-Noël Manirakiza, and the media regulator should desist from intimidating the media outlet.”

The CNC letter cited three reports as illustrations of Iwacu’s alleged professional failings:

  • A May 24 report, in which Ntakirutimana interviewed a political scientist who accused Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party of undermining democracy and running a de facto one-party state
  • A May 21 opinion piece on the country’s poor economic performance
  • A May 12 opinion piece in which Iwacu’s founder Kaburahe was critical of officials using religion to make “mystical promises” of a better tomorrow to suffering Burundians, rather than engaging in the “earthly exercise” of governance

“[A]s always, the CNC has not provided any further information on how Iwacu’s reports allegedly breach the law and regulations. Nor has it specified what action it intends to take against Iwacu,” the outlet said in a statement emailed to CPJ. “But we regard this warning as a yellow card (in football), the second card would lead to suspension.”

Around 7 p.m. on June 5, Ntakirutimana got out of a taxi near his home when a white pickup truck approached, and two uniformed police officers got out and tried to grab the journalist and put him in the truck. Ntakirutimana got away but lost his phone in the scuffle, and the officers then drove away.

On May 22, a police officer threatened Manirakiza, telling him, “We are following closely and we know everything you write” and physically assaulted him, including by slapping him.

The senior police officer ordered other officers who were with him to confiscate Manirakiza’s bag, which contained a laptop, camera, recorder, press card, power bank, notebooks, and pens. The bag was returned a day later, following the intervention of the CNC, according to a report by Iwacu.

The CNC and its chairperson Vestine Nahimana, security ministry spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye, and police spokesperson Désiré Nduwimana did not respond to CPJ’s queries sent via messaging application and email, requesting comment on the attacks on the two journalists and the warning letter to Iwacu.

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