My name is Eric Manirakiza. I am the Managing Director of African Public Radio and Correspondent for Voice of America, Burundi, and I need your help. The government in Burundi has systematically been trying to silence media in Burundi by threatening, jailing, and attacking them. Recently, the Burundian Parliament and Senate both overwhelmingly passed a bill which proposes to legitimately silence them by making it a crime to report on things like terrorism and the economy, requiring that sources be revealed, a minimum level of education for journalists, and imposing severe fines for violations.
Since 2010, the media has uncovered extensive government corruption and human rights violations in my country. In 2011, Human Rights Watch reported at least 160 political assassinations, uncovered largely by the local independent media. In response, the government has undertaken extreme measures to silence the media, including jailing journalists for as long as 10 months, trying them for treason and terrorism, threatening to close media outlets, and threatening to kill them and their families. My family and I have received numerous death threats, and at times had to live in exile. Since starting this petition, one of my journalists was shot by police, and another journalists was attacked in his home and had his press recordings stolen.
Like Rwanda, Burundi has suffered from decades of fighting between the Hutus and Tutsis. The international community, including Presidents Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela, played a key role in ending the long civil war in Burundi. As part of the brokered peace agreement, freedom of expression was to be guaranteed by the Burundian Constitution, and international treaties guaranteeing basic human rights, including free expression, were to be observed.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists have all condemned this law. It is an attack on freedom of expression, and any attack on freedom of expression is a direct attack on democracy. Unless we ensure that the media in Burundi remains independent and maintains the right to report freely, the government will continue to act with impunity, threatening the democracy we have fought so hard for.
One way that we can make a difference is for the international community to place pressure on the Burundian President not to sign the new bill into law. The international community has invested heavily in the rebuilding of Burundi. In fact, the majority of the Burundian government's budget comes from foreign aid. The international community -- including the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the World Bank, and more -- needs to take a stand and tell the President of Burundi that it must ensure press freedoms if it wishes to continue to receive the international aid that it depends on.
Please take a minute and demand freedom of the press in Burundi!
I am alarmed by the continual efforts of the Burundian Government to silence the media. The Burundian media has been instrumental in uncovering gross human rights violations and corruption at the hands of the government, including countless political assassinations. In response, the government has threatened, harassed, and attacked the media in attempts to prevent them from reporting on these activities. In some instances, the government has even jailed journalists for as long as 10 months.
Recently, the Burundian Parliament and Senate passed a new bill which would severely restrict press freedoms and freedom of expression. This includes restricting the subjects that the media can report on, undermining the protection of sources, and imposing severe fines for violations.
The international community has made significant investments in the rebuilding of Burundi, and its foreign aid makes up the majority of the government's budget. I call on the international community to demand that the Burundian government respect the Burundian Constitution and the international treaties that guarantee press freedoms.
Journalists play a crucial role in ensuring transparency and accountability in society and restriction of their freedom should not be tolerated.