Activists cry foul over Burundi media ban


Burundi banned the BBC and indefinitely suspended Voice of America, moves campaigners and the international broadcasters describe as a blow to press freedom.

The central African nation’s media regulator revoked the BBC’s licence and accused it of airing a documentary it said was false and damaged the country’s reputation. It extended an existing suspension on VOA, accusing it of employing a reporter who opposed government.

Both broadcasters were suspended, initially for six months, in May last year in the run-up to a referendum opposition politicians and activists said was designed to extend the president’s rule for at least a decade.

At the time it accused both of breaching press laws and unprofessional conduct. They have been off air in Burundi since.

“The unwarranted decision of the Burundi government to ban the BBC and suspend indefinitely Voice of America strikes a serious blow against media freedom, and we strongly condemn it,” the BBC said in a statement.

The publicly funded British broadcaster aired a documentary last year about what it said were secret detention and torture sites in Burundi. Government dismissed the report while the BBC said it stood by its journalism.

Burundi’s regulator also banned journalists from working for either organisation.

“We are alarmed reporters in Burundi are now forbidden to communicate with VOA and believe these continuing threats to our journalists undermine press freedom in the country,” VOA Director Amanda Bennett said.

Hundreds of Burundians have died in clashes with security forces and half a million fled abroad since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in 2015 he would run for a third term in what his opponents saw as a breach of the constitution. He won re-election.

Last May’s referendum overwhelmingly approved changes that could let the president stay in power to 2034 – though the opposition rejected the results and the United States said the process was marred by voter intimidation.

Burundi ranks 159th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index 2018, compiled by the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders. Burundi denies there are widespread restrictions.

“The withdrawal of the BBC’s operating license and continued suspension of the VOA are further brazen efforts by Burundian authorities to silence the media,” Amnesty International’s Sarah Jackson said in a statement.