A court in Burundi has Thursday sentenced 4 journalists of a local media house Iwacu to a two year and six-month imprisonment and a fine one million Burundian francs each while the groups driver has been acquitted.
Journalists Christine Kamikazi a broadcast reporter, head of politics desk Agnès Ndirubusa, English service reporter Egide Harerimana, photojournalist Térence Mpozenzi, and driver Adolphe Masabarikiza, were arrested in October 2019 while reporting on security forces clashes with rebels in the country’s Bubanza province.
The group have been facing charges of “complicity in undermining the internal security of state.”
According to defense counsel Clement Retirakiza, court ruled that work equipment seized from journalists including a car, telephones, a recorder, and camera, be handed to the media house.
“We haven’t yet got the full ruling but once we are in possession of it we shall appeal the ruling,” counsel Retirakiza said.
Prosecution had sought a 15 year sentence and to be denied their civic rights for 20 years, this was largely based on a WhatsApp exchange of messages between one of the reporters and a colleague based abroad in which the former wrote: “We are heading for Bubanza to help the rebels.”
Iwacu, one of Burundi’s few independent media house is owned by exiled Journalist Antione Kaburaha who fled the country after court granted him bail.
Security forces had said they killed 14 suspected Red Tabara rebels in the area who had crossed the border from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo when the journalist decided to go to the area to get first-hand information they arrested while interviewing civilians.
Rights groups have called they release with Reporters Without Borders NGO, which, saying the journalists were simply doing their job.
Some observers see the case against the four as a signal of toughness by the Burundi government just four months ahead of elections.
Committee to Protect Journalist sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo upon their arrest called for them to unconditional released.