ASF condemns the continued detention of journalist Bob Rugurika

BurundiDetentionFreedom of expressionNews

Bujumbura/Brussels, 12 February 2015 – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) questions the legality of judicial proceedings against the journalist Bob Rugurika and his continued detention ordered by the high court of Bujumbura on 4 February 2015. ASF calls on the Burundian authorities to ensure absolute respect for the law in this case and for the fundamental rights of Mr Rugurika, director of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA).

Bob Rugurika was arrested and detained on 20 January of this year. The authorities suspect him of being implicated in the murder of three Italian nuns on 7 and 8 September 2014 in Kamenge, a district of Bujumbura. At the time of his arrest, the RPA had been broadcasting the results of its inquiries into this case for several days, including the names of alleged perpetrators and senior officials in the Burundian intelligence and security forces.

At present, Bob Rugurika is accused of complicity to murder, failure to uphold public solidarity, harbouring a criminal and violating confidentiality in a criminal investigation. Specifically, it is the fact the journalist authorised the broadcast of information relating to this case rather than forwarding it to the case’s investigative agency which led the Burundian authorities to bring charges against him.

However, given the alleged facts, ASF considers that there is no objective evidence to link this act, performed in the ordinary course of a journalist’s work, to the offences in question. “The simple fact of publishing information relating to a crime or getting in touch with individuals who admit to having committed the crime in no way demonstrates complicity in its execution or an obstacle to the vital work of the investigators”, says Céline Lemmel, ASF Head of Mission in Burundi. “Moreover, Burundian law provides very strict conditions for establishing these offences and, on the face of it, these conditions are not met”, she adds.

At present, the detention of Bob Rugurika is an abusive preventive measure. Indeed, the act of detention must be a response to exceptional risks established by law, which was not the case here. In its decision of 4 February, the high court of Bujumbura moreover fails to establish the exceptional risk that Bob Rugurika’s freedom would pose to the proper continuation of the case.

This reaction by the judge to the work of journalists of the RPA could rapidly develop into very serious abuses of justice. “It is certainly important to regulate the work of human rights defenders, such as NGO workers, lawyers or journalists, but not to the detriment of the freedom to exercise their professions”, concludes the ASF Head of Mission in Burundi.

ASF invites the appeal judge to make a better reading of the law in order that freedom may truly remain the rule and detention the exception, always and everywhere.

Cover picture: Bob Rugurika © RPA