NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — An appeals court in Burundi on Friday upheld the two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for four journalists convicted on charges of trying to undermine state security.
The journalists are with Iwacu, one of the few remaining private media organizations in the East African nation. “Our four colleagues remain in prison at Bubanza. We will keep claiming justice and take the affair to the Supreme Court. We thank all those who support us,” Iwacu leader Antoine Kaburahe said in a Twitter post.
The four were arrested in October in Musigati district in the western province while covering the aftermath of clashes between the army and a rebel group from South Kivu in neighboring Congo.
President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government cracked down on the media ahead of the May presidential election won by the ruling party candidate. Several local radio stations and media houses closed and many journalists fled the country.
“These (Iwacu) journalists should never have been arrested for doing their work. This case has been nothing but retaliation for journalism,” said Muthoki Mumo, the Committee to Protect Journalists representative in sub-Saharan Africa.
“This case is empty,” added Arnaud Froger, Africa manager for Reporters Without Borders.
Burundi has been plagued by political violence since 2015, when Nkurunziza announced he would seek a disputed third term. He won re-election despite widespread protests, and the United Nations says more than 1,200 people were killed in the ensuing crackdown.
Nkurunziza surprised many by not running again this time, but some in Burundi worry he will assert power behind the scenes as the ruling party’s “Supreme Guide.”