Imprisoned Editor Faces Life Prison Sentence for “Treason”
PEN International protests the April 13, 2011 request from a Burundi state prosecutor for a life sentence for Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, editor of the online press agency Net Press, for treason.Kavumbagu has been imprisoned since July 17, 2010, over an article in which he suggested that the Burundian security forces would not be able to defend the country in the event of a terrorist attack. The court is due to reach a verdict by mid-June. PEN believes that Kavumbagu is being held in violation of his right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Burundi is a state party. It calls on the Burundian authorities to drop all charges against Kavumbagu and to release him immediately and unconditionally.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu published an article on July 12, 2010—one day after suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda—criticizing the capacity of Burundian security forces to protect the country from a terrorist attack. Somali Islamist armed group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the bombings in Uganda. They also threatened to attack Burundi in retaliation for Burundi’s participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Kavumbagu’s article said that “the anxiety has been palpable in Bujumbura and all those who have heard about [the bombings] yesterday in Kampala were convinced that if the al-Shabaab militants wanted to try ‘something' in our country, they would succeed with disconcerting ease, [as] our defense and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and kill their compatriots rather than defend our country.” The journalist was arrested on July 17, questioned without a lawyer, charged with treason, and transferred to Mpimba Central Prison, Bujumbura. He was also charged with defamation and violating Burundi’s press law. His application for bail was rejected in September and confirmed on appeal in November.
At a hearing on April 13, 2011, a state prosecutor asked a panel of judges to impose the maximum life sentence for treason on Kavumbagu. His defence lawyers called for his release on the basis that ‘treason’ is only applicable at times of war and that during the bail appeal hearing in November 2010, a state prosecutor had already acknowledged that Burundi was not at war. They also argued that the prosecution’s charges of defamation against the army and police were not applicable because the criminal code restricted the use of such charges to cases in which those allegedly defamed were individuals or groups of individuals, not institutional bodies. The court had two months (until mid-June) to reach a verdict.
Mpimba Central Prison, where Kavumbagu is detained, is overcrowded and unsanitary and conditions fall well below international standards.
Kavumbagu was previously imprisoned in September 2008 and charged with defamation for an article in which he stated that the cost of President Nkurunziza’s trip to see the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics caused some civil servants’ salaries to be paid late.
Write A Letter
- Expressing grave concern that journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been detained since July 2010 on charges of treason and defamation for criticizing the Burundian security services;
- Calling on the authorities to drop the charges against Kavumbagu and to release him immediately and unconditionally;
- Reminding the authorities that, as a state party to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.
Send Your Letter To
Président de la République Pierre Nkurunziza
Présidence de la République
Boulevard de l'Uprona
Fax: +257 22 24 89 08
Salutation: Monsieur le Président/Excellence
Premier Vice-président Yves Sahinguvu
Présidence de la République
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Monsieur le Premier Vice-président/Excellence
Monsieur Jean-Bosco Ndikumana
Minister of Justice and Keeper of Seals
Ministre de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux
Ministère de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux
Fax: +257 22 21 86 10
Salutation: Monsieur le Ministre
Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representatives for Burundi in your country if possible.
Please contact this office if sending appeals after June 10, 2011: ftw [at] pen.org