Burundi: worries over the disappearance of Jean Bigirimana

Missing since 22nd July, Burundian reporter Jean Bigirimana was working for IWACU Press Group and the news agency Infos Grands Lacs, Afronline’s African media partners. Described as “a discreet boy and a hard worker” by IWACU Press Group Manager, Antoine Kaburahe, in a statement asking for his lawful release, there had been no news of him since his unexplained disappearance twelve days ago. Unexpectedly, last night IWACU and Kaburahe announced on their Twitter accounts that Bigirimana is in bad condition, but alive. VITA, Afronline’s publisher, demands the immediate release of the Burundian reporter.

“Since the afternoon of last Friday, 22 July, we have no record of our colleague, Jean Bigirimana. While during the weekend the most alarming rumors went around (kidnapping and murder, etc.), despite our concern, Iwacu opted for compliance with legal procedures and refrained from any charge or negative comments towards the officials,” says the statement.

“We strongly appeal to the Burundian government to do its best that Jean Bigirimana be released…we are not saying that the journalist should not face justice. Jean is a Burundian citizen before being a journalist. But we ask that his arrest follow the rules of law, and that the arrest warrant be served on him and that he appear in court,” it continues.

Last night, IWACU and its director Antoine Kaburahe unexpectedly announced on their Twitter accounts that Bigirimana is alive.

The National Media Council-CNC, which also supports the protection of journalists, has been informed of Jean Birigimana’s disappearance.

Burundi continues to see many journalists forced to flee into exile, due to harassment and persecution for their reporting.

On Sunday night, Boaz Ntaconayigize was stabbed. A journalist working for the Burundian radio station Bonesha FM, Ntaconayigize was in exile in Kampala, Uganda. Injured in his back and one hand,  he has stated that his aggressors were four men who attacked him close to his home. He recognized two of his attackers as Burundians posing as refugees.

Patrick Nduwimana, the director of Radio Bonesha, who is also in exile, released the following statement in response: “A week ago, Boaz sent me a message saying that members of the Burundian SNR (Service Nationale des Renseignement, the Burundian Information Service) have been infiltrating the Burundian refugee population in Kampala and Nakivale. Their mission was to track journalists and civil society actors who have been participating in the demonstrations against the third mandate of Pierre Nkurunziza. A week after sending out the alert, Boaz was attacked. We believe the aim was to kill him.”

At the beginning of this week, the journalist Nestor Ndayitwayeko, a correspondent for Infos Grands Lacs multimedia agency, was threatened and beaten up by an officer of the Burundian police (GNP) in a bar in Rutana (Southern Burundi).

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has documented a pattern of intimidation and harassment against the media in Burundi which has seen most independent journalists flee the country. “CPJ and the Burundi Union of Journalists are aware of at least 100 journalists who have left the country since the mass protests of April 2015 and the attempted coup of May 2015 that followed President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement he would seek a third term. Many of the journalists who left told CPJ they had been threatened or feared persecution,” states the CPJ website.

As part of the partnership that we have with Infos Grands Lacs and the newspaper IWACU, the President of VITA (Afronline ‘s publisher), Riccardo Bonacina, “asks the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Paolo Gentiloni, to intervene with the Burundian authorities in order to demand the immediate release of Jean Bigirimana, and put an end to the persecutions suffered by media professionals in Burundi. We take the same position as IWACU, of which we are partners,” adds Bonacina. “We do not claim that a journalist should not face justice. Jean is a Burundian citizen before being a journalist. But we do ask that if there must be an arrest, that it is done in compliance with the law, that he is subjected to an arrest warrant, and that he may be allowed to appear to defend himself against any charges made against him​. Above all, we ask for news about his current condition.”


Photo Credits: IWACU Press Group