October 6, 2008

Président de la République Pierre Nkurunziza
Présidence de la République
Boulevard de l’Uprona, Rohero I, BP 1870
Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax : +257 22 22 74 90

Monsieur Jean-Bosco Ndikumana, Ministre de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux
Ministére de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux
BP 1880
Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax : +257 22 21 86 10

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to protest the detention of journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu.

According to our information, on September 11, 2008, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, editor of the online press agency Net Press, was arrested and charged with defamation for articles critical of government spending. He alleged in an article that President Nkurunziza had spent 100 million Burundian francs to travel to China to see the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on August 8, 2008, causing some civil servants’ salaries to be paid late. The lawyer acting on behalf of Kavumbagu told the local press that the government claimed the trip had only cost half that amount, and that Kavumbagu was responsible for “libellous writing and insulting remarks.” He has been held in Mpimba Central Prison in Bujumbura for more than four weeks, despite the fact that Article 72 of the Burundian Code of Criminal procedure states that the accused must be brought before a court within 15 days of the issuance of an arrest warrant. If found guilty, Kavumbagu could be sentenced to between six months and five years in prison, and a fine of between 100,000 and 300,000 Burundian francs.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been detained simply for criticizing government expenditure, and believes his imprisonment to be in violation of his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Burundi is a signatory. We therefore respectfully call for his immediate and unconditional release.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.


Hannah Pakula               
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems    
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H. E. Celestin Niyongabo. Ambassador of the Republic of Burundi to the U.S.
2233 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 212, Washington DC 20007, Fax: (202) 342-2578

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