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Groups Ask Burundian Government To Release Four Iwacu Journalists Jailed In 2019

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Campaign groups have demanded the immediate release of four journalists in Burundi who were arrested exactly a year ago.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the four journalists who have been detained arbitrarily for the past year are victims of the East African country’s draconian curbs on the freedom to inform.

Employed by Iwacu, one of Burundi’s last bastions of freely reported news, journalists Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi were arrested on 22 October 2019 after travelling to the northwest of the country to cover an incursion by a group of Burundian rebels based in the east of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

The incursion led to clashes with then-President Pierre Nkurunziza’s armed forces.

In January 2020, they were sentenced to 30 months in prison on a charge of “attempted complicity in a violation of state security” – a sentence upheld on appeal six months later. It was nonetheless made clear during the original trial and the appeal hearing that the four reporters had absolutely no links with the rebel group, and just did their job by going into the field to cover a major news story.

Their hoped-for release after President Nkurunziza’s death on 8 June 2020 and Évariste Ndayishimiye’s succession as president ten days later has so far failed to materialize and they are now “dispirited,” according to Iwacu editor Antoine Kaburahe, who has lived in self-imposed exile since being threatened during the political crisis in 2015.

On the first anniversary of their arrest, 65 organizations call for their immediate and unconditional release.

A statement by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said their “continued detention on baseless charges is a stark reminder that, despite a recent change in leadership, the Burundian government has little tolerance for independent journalism and free speech”.

The group added, “on 22 October 2019, the four journalists were arrested along with their driver Adolphe Masabarakiza as they went to report on clashes between the security forces and an armed group in Bubanza province. Although they had informed the provincial authorities of their plan to travel to the area, they were arrested on arrival and later accused of threatening internal state security. However, during the trial, the prosecution presented no evidence of the journalists having any contact with the armed group.

“Although they were charged with complicity in threatening the internal security of the state, Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana and Mpozenzi were ultimately convicted of attempting to commit the crime, a lesser criminal offense. Their lawyers say that they were not informed of the change to the charge prior to the verdict or allowed to defend themselves against it in court, violating fair trial standards. All four were sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined one million Burundian francs (approximately 525 USD). Masabarakiza, who had been provisionally released in November 2019, was acquitted. Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana and Mpozenzi appealed their conviction, but in its 4 June decision, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal upheld the verdict.

“The message sent by the courts is an attempt to intimidate and threaten other journalists from doing their work and reporting on what is happening inside the country, the organizations said. The conviction and continued detention of the four journalists also runs counter to Burundi’s constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression, as well as regional and international obligations in accordance with Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is particularly inconsistent with the African Commission’s 2019 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, which specifically provides that states shall take measures to prevent “arbitrary arrest and detention” of journalists.

“Iwacu is one of the few remaining independent media houses operational in Burundi. Hundreds of journalists and human rights defenders have fled the country since the start of the political crisis in 2015 and those still working in the country often face threats and harassment. Releasing Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana and Mpozenzi would be an important first step towards reopening civic space and recognizing the contribution of reliable media reporting in ensuring access to information for all Burundians.”

Signatories to the call include ACAT-Burundi (Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture); Amnesty International; ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa; Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH); Association des journalistes indépendants du Bénin; Bloggers Association of Kenya; Burundi Human Rights Initiative; Cellule Norbert Zongo pour le journalisme d’investigation en Afrique de l’Ouest; Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy; CNCD-11.11.11; and Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme.

Others are Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI); Coalition de la Société Civile pour le Monitoring Electoral (COSOME); Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA); Collectif des Avocats pour la défense des victimes de crimes de droit international commis au Burundi (CAVIB); Committee to Protect Journalists; Community Empowerment for Progress Organization-CEPO, South Sudan; Congress of African Journalists; Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO); Defend Defenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project); Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJN); European Network for Central Africa (EurAc); Fédération internationale des ACAT (FIACAT); Federation of African Journalists (FAJ); Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ) and FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

The signatories also include Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE); Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile (FORSC); The Ghanaian PEN Centre; Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda; Human Rights Watch; International Service for Human Rights (ISHR); Kenya Correspondents Association; Kenya Editors’ Guild; Kenya Union of Journalists; Laws and Rights Awareness Initiative (LRAI); Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka; Ligue des journalistes Tchadiens (LJT); La Maison de la presse du Niger; Media Council of Tanzania; Media Institute of Southern Africa; Mouvement des Femmes et Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité au Burundi (MFFPS); Mouvement Inamahoro Femmes & Filles pour la Paix & la Securite; National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Uganda; Observatoire de la lutte contre la corruption et les malversations économiques (OLUCOME); Ökumenisches Netz Zentralafrika (ÖNZ); One Day Seyoum; OpenNet Africa; Organisation Patronale des Médias du Gabon (OPAM); Paradigm Initiative; PEN International; PEN Nigeria; PEN South Africa; PEN Zimbabwe; Reporters sans Frontières (RSF); Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP); SOS-Torture/Burundi; Syndicat National des Journalistes Indépendants du Togo (SYNJIT); Syndicat Professionnels Information Communication Sénégal (Synpics); Tournons la Page – Burundi; Tournons la Page International; TRIAL International; Ugandan PEN; Union Burundaise des Journalistes; and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

East Africa Politics News

Ethiopian Forces Capture Tigray’s Capital In Final Offensive

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Ethiopian forces have captured Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced this in tweets on Saturday, as he said the “Tigrayan criminals” will now be hunted by the Federal Police.

Ahmed on Friday met African envoys in Addis Ababa and reiterated that civilians in the region will not be harmed in the final offensive.

“I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the #Tigray region.

“Our focus now will be on rebuilding the region and providing humanitarian assistance while Federal Police apprehend the TPLF clique.”

He said the town is now under the control of National Defence Forces, as humanitarian assistance will be provided to inhabitants of the region.

Recall that Ethiopia earlier announced that a Tigrayan town, Wikro, 50km north of Mekelle has been captured.

Tigray officials are yet to react to the Prime Minister’s claims as the region has been cut off from internet and phone access.

Both forces have been at daggers drawn since the 4th of November when Ethiopia accused Tigrayan forces of attacking state properties.

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East Africa Politics News

Police Probe Killing of Over 45 Ugandans in Kampala Protests

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The Police in Uganda have kicked off an investigation into the crackdown on protesters last week, that led to the death of over 45 people.

Supporters of the National Unity Platform presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, had protested his arrest and detention by authorities for breaching COVID-19 protocols at his campaign rallies. Local and international media reports say

the demonstrations were met with a violent crackdown by the police.

Bobi Wine has since been released and is now back on the campaign trail.

Police spokesperson, Fred Enanga, however, said that investigation into the deaths will “identify mistakes” that led to the “collateral damage”.

Meanwhile, the European Union has already called for a “full and independent” investigation into the role of the police in the death of the protesters.

The EU – in a joint statement with the diplomatic missions to Uganda from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden as well as Iceland and Norway – added that the perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions.

The statement read; “… the deaths of dozens of people amidst widespread violence marred the electoral campaign on 18th and 19th of November. We offer our sincere condolences to the families of the victims, reportedly including innocent bystanders.”

Last week, Uganda witnessed rioting, chaos as well as disproportionate use of force by security services. The Government of Uganda and its institutions have the responsibility to ensure the safety, security and dignified treatment of all citizens, including electoral candidates and their supporters, in line with national laws and Uganda’s international human rights commitments.

The statement went on to urge all political parties and electoral candidates to call upon their supporters to refrain from violence and inflammatory language, and to take firm action to end any provocation or incitement to violence or any unlawful action. All political parties, candidates and their supporters should ensure the full implementation of the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures and the relevant regulations designed to curb the spread of the virus.

The launch of a full and independent investigation into the events of 18th and 19th of November has been proposed, to ensure justice for victims and to avoid impunity for the perpetrators who must be held accountable for their actions.”

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East Africa Politics News

Uganda Jails Former Presidential Aspirant Three Years for Abusing Judges

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Ivan Samuel Ssebadduka, a former presidential aspirant in Uganda, has been jailed three years by the country’s Supreme Court for using abusive language against the judges, including calling them a “council of fools”.

The 36-year-old was jailed for contempt of court and will spend the next three years in Uganda Government Prison Kitalya.

Ssebadduka had in September filed a petition at the Supreme Court, seeking to stop a requirement for presidential aspirants to collect nomination signatures.

He also wanted the court to suspend the coronavirus safety restrictions issued by the health ministry on the conduct of campaign rallies.

He used the offensive remarks while defending the petition before the judges.

Chief Justice Alfonse Owinyi-Dollo was quoted as saying that criticism against judges should be accurate and fair, and should not infringe on the the rights of others.

On November 11, local media reported that Ssebadduka, a week after he was summoned by the Supreme Court to explain why he shouldn’t be found guilty for contempt of court after using abusive language against Judges, followed up with more insults. He described the Justices as incompetent, saying the accusations of contempt of court are baseless because the justices can’t challenge him legally.

“We didn’t offend you or you’re so-called Supreme Court because it is not a court in the first place. It is a Council of fools…” Ssebadduka’s response to the summons read in part.

He added, “It is very unfortunate that we entrust you with the judiciary because you don’t deserve to be judges. A judge must have judgment but it is very unfortunate that you don’t have common sense, which is common”, reads his response in part.

After the ruling, Ssebadduka was immediately handcuffed by security and driven to his next home of three years.

The Supreme court decision in Uganda is final as it is the last appellate court in the country, and unless the justices choose, for some reason, to review their decision or Ssebadduka gets a presidential pardon, he will be expected to serve his entire jail term.

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