8 January 2013

Burundi: RFI Journalist Hassan Ruvakuki Sentenced to Three Years in Burundi Jail

Photo: AllAfrica
Journalists at work.

RFI journalist Hassan Ruvakuki was sentenced to three years in prison by a judge in Burundi on Tuesday, at the end of an appeal against an earlier life sentence.

The correspondent for RFI's Swahili language service was arrested on 28 November by the authorities in Burundi and sentenced for "acts of terrorism".

He had just arrived in Tanzania to cover the emergence of a new Burundian rebel group when he was charged and convicted of planning an attack on an armed group on the eastern Cankuzo province of Tanzania, which left dozens dead.

The Court of Appeal in Gitega re worded the original verdict, finding him guilty instead of "participating in an association formed for the purpose of attacking people and property".

Ruvakuki has always protested his innocence and was not present in court.

"How can you attack people with a microphone?" asked a shocked Alexandre Niyungeko, president of the Burundian Union of Journalists, who attended the hearing in Gitega.

He suggested that the court had given in to pressure from the Burundian security apparatus, which did not want to lose face by acquitting Ruvakuki completely.

Ruvakuki's lawyer, Fabien Segatwa declared "Three years is too much, especially for someone who is innocent, but it is better than life imprisonment."

He stressed that his client had already done a quarter of his prison sentence, and so was now eligible for conditional release.

The Management of AEF, the parent company of Radio France Internationale, has issued a statement expressing disappointment at Ruvakuki's sentence.

Reporters sans Frontières, the Paris-based group which monitors the treatment of journalists around the world, declared that it was "profoundly disappointed by the verdict" and has launched a petition calling for Hassan Ruvakuki's liberation.

Since general elections in 2010 that were boycotted by the opposition, Burundi has been rocked by violence leading to fears that the central African country could be sliding back into conflict.

Burundi's civil war claimed nearly 300,000 lives from 1993 to 2006.

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