21 July 2017

Burundi: 'Dear Jean, We Will Never Forget You!'

Photo: Iwacu
Jean Bigirimana

Iwacu Press Group commemorates one year of the disappearance of its journalist, Jean Bigirimana, who has gone missing since 22 July 2016. No evidence of his death so far .

"You were a colleague, a friend and brother. Your sense of responsibility, your passion for journalism, your professionalism and your pieces of advice inspired us. We promise you to put them into practice", has said Léandre Sikuyavuga, chief editor at Iwacu Press Group while Iwacu journalists were commemorating one year after the journalist's disappearance.

He has said it is sad to commemorate a disappearance as we haven't any fact confirming his death. A complaint against "X" has been filed to justice; the police have been alerted, but in vain. "We are still waiting... "

In black T-shirts, Journalists of Iwacu Press Group laid a wreath below the disappeared journalist's portrait hung on one of the walls of Iwacu printing house. They observed a minute of silence. Their facial expression could obviously mean "Dear Jean, we will never forget you!", as it was written on their black T-Shirts.

"My children need psychological counselling"

"My children are traumatized by their father's disappearance. They often ask me where their daddy is," says Hakizimana Godeberthe, Jean Bigirimana's wife one year after her husband went missing.She worries that her children consider Burundians as criminals.

"They often say Burundians are criminals, they will also kill us". She believes that her children need psychological counselling.

"I myself feel unsafe. I am afraid my husband's killers would also abduct me," says Hakizimana.

She also says Bigirimana's family has not got any information about her husband's fate so far.

"Justice has not yet revealed the results of the investigations into his disappearance. They tell us that investigations are ongoing. Can investigations last a year without giving the results?" she wonders.

She calls on Burundi justice to shed light on the disappearance Iwacu Press Group journalist. "If he is dead, we need to organize the mourning. I have the impression that the investigations are deadlocked," Hakizimana says.

Agnès Bangiricenge, spokesperson for the Supreme Court, says the file on the disappearance of journalist Jean Bigirimana was open in the Muramvya prosecutor's office without showing the progress of the investigations.

Flashback on Jean Bigirimana's disappearance

Jean Bigirimana, the Iwacu Press group Journalist, was arrested and abducted in a vehicle on July 22, 2016 by unknown men in Bugarama. Alerted, Godeberthe Hakizimana, the wife of Jean Bigirimana, went to Bugarama the next day. The Muramvya criminal investigation police dismissed the allegations that her husband would be in police custody. She later learned that our colleague was picked up in a vehicle of the National Intelligence Service-SNR to the Muramvya province chief town.

"People from Bugarama testified this to me," she said. "They claimed to have seen a slim, black and tall man being shipped off by people who were driving an intelligence service car. The description that these people were giving was exactly my husband's and no one else was picked up that day," she said.

Pierre Nkurikiye, spokesman for the police, said Jean Bigirimana reportedly arrested by the agents of the National Intelligence Service in Bugarama, was not at all apprehended by the Burundian security forces.

A delegation of the National Independent Commission on Human Rights went to Muramvya where Jean Bigirimana is said to have been abducted. Jean Baptiste Baribonekeza, Chairman of the commission said the delegation searched for the journalist in Muramvya police detention centres but in vain.

On 12 August, three professional associations of Burundian Media have written a letter to President Pierre Nkurunziza asking him to free the journalist Jean Bigirimana working for Iwacu newspaper abducted since 12 July by the state services as several sources stated.

They appealed to Burundi president to urge the security minister, the Chief of the national intelligence service and the leader of the youth affiliated to the ruling party ' Imbonerakure' to do whatever it takes for the truth about the disappearance of the journalist Jean Bigirimana to be brought out into the open.

In the same line, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Nkurunziza to make any effort to locate the journalist Jean Bigirimana who has gone missing since the past three weeks.

A few days later, the chief editor said the Iwacu Press Group administration was going to file a complaint against X. "We do not know who kidnapped him," he says, explaining the complaint against X.

When Bigirimana disappeared last year, he was in his late thirties 37. He left his wife Godeberthe Hakizimana who was then 28 and two young boys, Don Douglas, 8, and Timmy Terry, 3.

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