Burundian Journalist Detained by National Intelligence Service

Following the 10-year sentence received by Burundian journalist Floriane Irangabiye for ‘undermining the integrity of Burundi’s national territory’ in 2023, another journalist has been detained by the country’s National Intelligence Service (SNR). 

What You Need to Know:

42-year-old Sandra Muhoza, an employee of ‘La-Nova Burundi’ – a local paper in the country’s northeastern region, disappeared on Saturday after leaving to meet a businessman associated with the ruling National Council For the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD). 

According to Muhoza’s employer, Muhoza had previously reported on the dealings of the unnamed businessman, who had contacted her to organize a meeting during which he could supply her with information. 

“This was not the first time that she covered information on this businessman known in the trade of petroleum products, in agriculture and the exploitation of lime and minerals,” said her employer. 

The grounds for Muhoza’s arrest have not been released, however, it has been confirmed by AFP journalists that she is currently being held at the SNR’s offices in Bujumbura. 

The Details: 

Burundi’s Intelligence Agency has a checkered record, with the BBC reporting in 2016 on a suspected SNR operated clandestine jail in Bujumbura, where political dissidents who had protested against the onset of former President Nkurunziza’s third term in 2015, were allegedly tortured. 

In an attempt to avoid civil unrest reminiscent of the nation’s 2015 protests, President Nkurunziza endorsed Evariste Ndayishimiye as his successor. Ndayishimiye, a former CNDD-FDD militia member during the Burundian Civil War (1993-2005) has further restricted civil liberties in the nation, with Freedom House labeling the country as ‘not free’ with a political rights score of 4/40 and a civil liberties score of 10/60. 

Additionally, a 2016 Human Rights Watch report touches on the extent of the SNR’s extrajudicial punishment: 

“Former detainees, including opposition party members, told Human Rights Watch that intelligence agents beat them with water pipes weighted with steel construction bars, often until they bled or had difficulty standing. One said that a policeman working at the SNR headquarters poured a liquid over his body that burned him so badly he begged to be killed. Another said an SNR agent smashed bones in his legs with a hammer. A former detainee said an SNR agent interrogated him while an Imbonerakure (CNDD-FDD Youth League member) dripped melting plastic on him. They also used pliers to cut his genitals, while an Imbonerakure told him: “You will end up revealing the secrets of [opposition leader Alexis] Sinduhije.”

Detainees and others with knowledge of the SNR headquarters in Bujumbura’s Rohero neighborhood said that the compound has several unofficial cells where detainees who had been tortured were hidden from international monitors.”

The persecution of journalists critical of the government and its allies continues despite the adoption of a bill in February that aimed to abolish prison sentences for journalists that had received ethics complaints.  

Despite the adoption of the bill, Floriane Irangabiya, who was sentenced to 10-years prison in January 2023, remains behind bars. 

So, What Now?:

Currently, it is unclear if Mrs Muhoza will be released despite the lack of information surrounding the charges laid against her. If she is not released, her continued detention signals further democratic backsliding in Burundi.

 

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.

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