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Friday 24 October  
Jean Claude Kavumbagu
Hélène Michaud's picture
Bujumbura, Burundi
Bujumbura, Burundi

Burundi: PUM worried about journalist Kavumbagu's health

Published on : 27 September 2010 - 2:41pm | By Hélène Michaud (Photo: RNW )
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Journalist Jean Claude Kavumbagu was detained by the Burundian authorites on treason charges on 17 July. Thijs van Praag, director of Dutch development aid organisation PUM, says his health is fragile and this "prolonged detention can only be harmful to him''.

The 45-year-old Jean Claude Kavumbagu is a volunteer local representative for PUM in Burundi. The journalist is also the founder and director of the Net Press website. His arrest followed the publication of an article called Will Burundi be the next target of Somali Shabaab? (Click here for link article in French)

The article questioned the Burundian security forces' ability to prevent attacks like the one committed by the Somali Al-Shabaab Islamist group in Uganda in July, leaving 76 dead civilians and 70 injured. The publication, in the eyes of the authorities, was treason. Like Uganda, Burundi has deployed troops with the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia and the Al-Shabaab had also threatened Burundi with reprisals for their support for the Somali government.

PUM's director told Radio Netherlands Worldwide he had been unable to contact the journalist by phone and that the Dutch Consulate had not been authorised to visit him. Mr Kavumbagu's family, however, has been allowed to see him.

Life imprisonment
Several international organisations, including Reporters without Borders and Human Rights Watch, have campaigned for his release, but without success. On 6 September, the High Court of Bujumbura extended Mr Kabumbagu's pre-trial detention, without setting a date for a second hearing. If found guilty, he faces life imprisonment.

One of Mr Kavumbagu's lawyers, Gabriel Sinarinzi, told Reporters Without Borders: "What he is alleged to have done does not constitute an act of treason." Citing article 570 of the Burundian criminal code, he said that an act of treason can only be committed in wartime, "and Burundi is not at war".

Fifth arrest
Mr Kavumbagu's criticisms of the current regime in Burundi have got him in trouble before - this is the fifth time he has been arrested. In 2008, he was accused of defaming the president. The charge was based on an article he wrote which claimed President Pierre Nkurunziza had spent 71,000 euros on his trip to attend the Chinese Olympics opening ceremony: twice the amount that had been budgeted by the government.

Peter Moen, PUM's coordinator for Burundi, says Jean-Claude Kavumbagu is ''a nervous man, and probably rightly so.'' Mr Moen is outraged at his arrest. In his view, the journalist’s trial is purely a political one. Referring to the critical press in the Netherlands, he added: ''If all the Dutch journalists who speak out against the government were imprisoned, there would not be a single newspaper left in the country!''



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