The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned in the strongest terms the ruling of the Provincial High Court in Cankuzo Province in Burundi which sentenced to life imprisonment Hassan Ruvakiki, a journalist with Bonesha radio and a local correspondent of Radio France International.
According to the Union of Burundi Journalist (UBJ), an IFJ affiliate, the court convicted the journalist with "terrorism" based on the accusations which had been leveled against him for interviewing a rebel leader and broadcasting the interview.
"This is a shocking ruling which has no basis whatsoever and our colleague is a victim of a gross miscarriage of justice," said Gabriel Baglo, Director of the IFJ Africa Office. "Hassan has never engaged in illegal acts designed to endanger the lives of the Burundian citizens by broadcasting an interview that he had conducted. He has performed his professional duties based on the citizens' right to know and should not be condemned on these bogus charges of terrorism."
The IFJ had dismissed the charges against Hassan Ruvakiki as trumped up accusations and said that his trial was marred by deep flaws of due process.
"The whole judicial process in the case of our colleague was a travesty of justice from start to finish, with the sole purpose of intimidating the independent media in Burundi," added Baglo.
The UBJ also condemned the ruling, saying that the judge paid no attention to the defence's compelling case.
"We believe that our colleague has no case to answer and we are deeply disappointed by this verdict," said UBJ President Alexandre Niyungeko. "We look to the Appeal Court to set aside this ruling and free Hassan."
The verdict was also criticised by the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA) Secretary General Omar Faruk Osman who described it "a cruel and a blow to press freedom in the region". "The arrest and the whole trial were politically motivated and the verdict is a great affront to press freedom," added Osman.
Ruvakiki was arrested in November 2011 by the security forces after he had interviewed an opponent of President Pierre Nkurunziza in neighbouring Tanzania.
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The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 134 countries