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Two foreign reporters arrested amidst escalating violence in Burundi

Residents look on as police and soldiers guard a voting station inBujumbura during Burundi's presidential elections, 21 July 2015
Residents look on as police and soldiers guard a voting station inBujumbura during Burundi's presidential elections, 21 July 2015

REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

This statement was originally published on on 29 January 2016.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demands the immediate release two foreign journalists arrested yesterday in the Burundian capital and condemns this latest escalation in media freedom violations in country that is sinking ever deeper into chaos and where the UN now fears a possible genocide.

French reporter Jean-Philippe Rémy, who covers Africa for the French daily Le Monde, and British freelance photographer Philip Moore were among a total of 17 persons arrested in Bujumbura yesterday evening. It is not yet known where the authorities are holding them. RSF calls on President Pierre Nkurunziza and the Burundian authorities to end the detention of these two journalists without delay and to comply with their obligations under international law.

“Amid the extreme tension currently prevailing in Burundi and the fears voiced by the UN about the possibility of genocide, journalism can play a vital role in helping to restore peace,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Verification of information is needed to establish what is happening in Burundi and to combat hate-fuelled rumours. A foreign media presence is all the more crucial because most Burundian journalists have fled abroad and those still there are unable to work. We ask the government to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2222 of 27 May 2015 on protecting journalists in conflict zones.”

President Nkurunziza's government has its sights on foreign journalists. The most recent previous target was Radio France Internationale reporter Sonia Rolley. In a press release on 4 January, the public security ministry criticized her “customary accursed reporting” and accused her of broadcasting “inflammatory false information” and fabricating interviews. In a barely veiled threat, the communiqué ended by saying, “the authorized government services will take the necessary measures to deal with this journalist's disruptive activities.”

Most independent media outlets, especially radio stations, have been forced to close in recent months and many journalists have fled the country or live in hiding because they have been the targets of threats or attacks.

Burundi is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2015 press freedom index. The arbitrary closure of news media and persecution of journalists since the start of the political crisis that erupted in 2015 means that Burundi is unlikely to hold this position in the 2016 press freedom index.

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