- As Burundi's April elections are approaching, government attacks on the country's still limited independent press are multiplying. A private news agency has been shut down over libel charges after criticising two of Burundi's leading politicians and an independent radio station was suspended for two days.
The Burundian independent radio station 'Radio Publique Africaine' (RPA) yesterday resumed broadcasting after authorities suspended the station on Friday for two days, accusing it of violating the country's press law. RPA has been airing critical debates on political issues.
The private Burundian news agency 'Net-Press', which was also summarily banned on Friday for seven days following libel complaints, still remains shuttered. Local journalists believe that authorities are trying to muzzle the press in the run-up to elections scheduled this year.
The government-appointed media regulatory body, the Conseil National de la Communication (CNC), issued the suspension orders. The CNC accused RPA of "multiple violations of the law regulating the press in Burundi," including "offending public morals" by reporting on the rape of an 8-year-old girl and threatening public security by "deforming" the words of Tutsi politician and former President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza.
RPA Director Alexis Sinduhije said these allegations were intended to intimidate the station, which has been airing critical debates and editorials about the country's electoral process. Mr Sinduhije earlier last year won the International Press Freedom Award, managed by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
In November, the CNC denied a request for RPA to create a regional radio station in partnership with Ngozi University in the north of the country. No radio station, including state-run RTNB, currently has any local affiliates outside the capital, Bujumbura.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, director of 'Net-Press', said the CNC suspended his news agency because of two articles alleged to be libellous. One of the 'Net-Press' articles accused Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira, head of the National Committee for Rehabilitation of War Victims, of diverting food aid, according to Kavumbagu.
An editorial piece that ran several times in January and February said that National Assembly President Jean Minani was lazy and unfit to run for President of Burundi. Mr Minani is expected to be a presidential candidate for FRODEBU, the mainly Hutu party of the current Transitional President. Mr Kavumbagu said 'Net-Press' was not given any opportunity to answer the CNC's allegations.
Burundi is due to hold elections in April this year, but the electoral timetable has already been delayed. A constitutional referendum has been postponed three times and is now planned for 28 February. This set of polls is to end Burundi's civil war and transition period and establish a democratically elected government.
Media freedom groups are criticising the muzzling of the Burundian press in this critical moment of transition. "A free and fair election requires unfettered media," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "Burundian officials' recent actions are therefore very troubling. We call on authorities to stop this harassment and to allow Net-Press to resume operations," Ms Cooper added.
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.