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Media groups face debilitating fines under new Burundi law

The granting of assent to the media law is a severe blow to freedom of expression in Burundi. ARTICLE 19 finds the media law to violate international standards on freedom of expression and pose a severe threat to press freedom in the country.

“This law will have a devastating impact on press freedom in Burundi. There has been a long struggle to secure better rights for people to be able to express themselves in Burundi. This law sweeps away hard won gains in an instant” said Henry Maina, director of Article 19 Eastern Africa.

ARTICLE 19 notes that the media law violates the right to freedom of expression as protected by the Constitution of Burundi, as well as Burundi's obligations under the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The law uses overly broad and indefinite language that may result in the criminalisation of reporting on matters of public interest and will effectively place limitation on the subjects that the press is able to report on. The new law also introduces a requirement for journalists to have set levels of education and professional experience, fundamentally undermines the protection of journalistic sources and imposes debilitating fines for media organisations who are deemed to be contravening the law.

ARTICLE 19 notes that Burundi underwent the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in January 2013. Of the 174 recommendations received by Burundi following the UPR, more than 25 related specifically to concerns member states had about freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly in the country.

On 7 June 2013, a working party on Burundi will convene at the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. ARTICLE 19 calls upon all those present to highlight the passage of this law as a contravention to Burundi's obligations under international standards of freedom of expression.

“It is vital that robust protection is granted to reporting for freedom of expression in Burundi, particularly on matters in the public interest. This is particularly the case given the current political climate in Burundi, where we have seen politically motivated attacks by the authorities to censor and restrict the media,” added Maina.
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