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New law would limit protection of sources, increase fines for journalists in Burundi

Reporters Without Borders condemns the Burundian national assembly's adoption yesterday of a bill that would rein in press freedom by reducing protection for sources, increasing fines and requiring all journalists to have a university degree regardless of their work experience.

If approved by the senate, the proposed modification of Burundi's 2003 media law is likely to deal a major setback to freedom of information in this central African country.

“We urge the senate not to pass this bill, which bears the fingerprints of the ruling party's most hard-line wing and would considerably reduce the freedom of Burundi's journalists and media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “What with this law and the impact of the recent Ruvakuki case, the Burundian media could be prevented from playing its role in the democratic debate.”

Radio reporter Hassan Ruvakuki spent 15 months in prison in connection with his work before finally being released on health grounds on 6 March.

Passed by a big majority in the national assembly (82 votes for, 15 against and two abstentions), the proposed new law needs the senate's approval.

The president of the Union of Burundian Journalists (UBJ), Alexandre Niyungeko, said its aim is to “close independent media.”

It would restrict protection of sources “if they are suspected of involvement in violations of state security, public order or the confidentiality of a defence case.” And it would ban the publication of “information or (…) documents” relating to “national defence, currency or public credit secrets, and information liable to threaten state credit and the national economy or serve as enemy propaganda in both peace time and war time.”

Fines for offenders would be drastically increased, and would henceforth range from 300,000 to 2 million Burundian francs (150 to 1,000 euros).

Discretionary press cards

The new law would also put the National Council for Communication (CNC), the media regulatory body, in charge of issuing press cards and withdrawing them “temporarily or permanently” in cases of defamation or insult.

Reporters Without Borders discussed this much-criticized bill with government officials several times during visits to Burundi in 2012 in connection with the Ruvakuki case. It was amended in committee after being submitted to the bureau of the national assembly in October, but the version approved yesterday was the original draft.

Learn more about media freedom in Burundi.

Burundi is ranked 132nd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
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