The international community must reinforce the mobilization to free a life-sentenced journalist in Burundi, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) said today after a Burundian prosecutor asked the appeal court to confirm the life sentence handed to journalist Hassan Ruvakuki over "terrorism charges".
"The international community must reinforce the mobilization to free our colleague from jail. This is a shocking position from the prosecutor. He must know that there is a big difference between a terrorist and a journalist. We remind authorities in Burundi that our colleague has performed his professional duties based on the citizens' right to know and should not be condemned on these charges of terrorism. Ruvakiki must be released," said Gabriel Baglo, IFJ Africa Director.
According to Union of Burundi Journalists (UBJ), an IFJ affiliate, prosecutor Emmanuel Nyandwi on November 9, the last day of an appeal hearing in Gitega, central Burundi has asked the court to uphold the life sentence handed to journalist Hassan Ruvakuki over "terrorism charges".
Ruvakuki works for the French radio station RFI's Swahili service and Bonesha FM. He was arrested in November 2011 by the security forces after he had interviewed an opponent of President Pierre Nkurunziza.
He has been convicted and imprisoned on charges of "terrorism". He was sentenced to life imprisonment at a court ruling in July this year.
During an appeal court which started on Thursday November 8, Ruvakuki said quoted by AFP: "I am not a terrorist. I have never, and will never be one. I am a journalist. I do not deny going to Tanzania in November 2011 to document the establishment of a new rebellion. I was simply conducting my job as a non partisan journalist". The appeal court is expected to give a verdict in January 8.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Federation of African Journalists and the Union of Burundi Journalists (UBJ) are deeply concerned with the situation and the charges against Ruvakuki.
"The charges are indicative of a global trend in which critical voices of the society are being silenced, intimidated and imprisoned. We call on the Burundian government to immediately drop the charges against Hassan Ruvakuki and demand his release," added Baglo.
"It is evident that the charges are very vague and no matter the nature of the accusation, Hassan Ruvakuki should not be imprisoned to life. It is outrageous that a journalist can be charged and convicted to life imprisonment simply by conducting his professional duties. We demand the court to reverse the unjust conviction brought against Hassan Ruvakuki and once again call the government to adhere to the principle of fundamental freedoms and rights," said Omar Faruk Osman President of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ).
"Ruvakuki must be released. His place is not in prison. The international community must indeed mobilize. If not we are heading towards a gross miscarriage of justice in this case. We stand in never-ending solidarity with our colleague," said Alexandre Niyungenko, UBJ President.
For more information contact the IFJ on +221 33 867 95 86/87
The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 134 countries