Call to rescind BBC and VOA decisions in Burundi

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The US State Department called on Burundi to rescind a decision to suspend US-funded Voice of America and ban the BBC and to allow journalists to operate freely in the run-up to elections in 2020.

“This decision raises serious concerns for freedom of expression enshrined in Article 31 of Burundi’s constitution, as well as for Burundi’s human rights obligations,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters.

“We call on government to rescind its decision and we urge the government of Burundi to allow all journalists to operate in an environment free of intimidation,” he added.

Both broadcasters were suspended, initially for six months, last May 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.

Hundreds of Burundians were killed in clashes with security forces and half a million fled 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.