Amnesty International of the USA Inc.

05/10/2024 | News release | Archived content

Voices Amidst Conflict: Protecting Journalists on World Press Freedom Day

When former President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term in office in April 2015, many Burundians took to the streets to express their frustration against the decision that they believed violated the 2005 Burundian Constitution, which limited presidential terms to two terms of 5 years. Her trip in August 2022 was the first time she visited her family in Bujumbura since 2015.

Burundi's civil society and media organizations were among the first targets of the government repression in 2015. The government suspended or closed most independent human rights organizations and media outlets and drove them into exile. Despite promises by President Ndayishimiye to normalize relations with the media in 2021, the Burundian government continues to view the press and human rights work with suspicion, and severe restrictions on human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, remain in place. Most independent human rights organizations have been unable to resume their activities in Burundi, especially as the Burundian authorities have issued arrest warrants for many leading activists, who live in exile.

On February 14, five human rights defenders, Sonia Ndikumasabo, president, and Marie Emerusabe, general coordinator, of the Association of Women Lawyers in Burundi (Association des femmes juristes du Burundi, AFJB), Audace Havyarimana, legal representative, Sylvana Inamahoro, executive director, and Prosper Runyange, land project coordinator of the Association for Peace and Promotion of Human Rights in Burundi (Association pour la paix et la promotion des droits de l'Homme, APDH), were arrested and accused of rebellion and of undermining internal state security and the functioning of public finances. The charges appear to relate to their relationship with an international organization abroad and the funding they have received from this organization. Twelve human rights defenders and journalists were among a group of 34 people sentenced to life in prison in absentia in June 2020 on accusations of involvement in an attempted coup in May 2015; the Supreme Court judgment was not made public until February 2021.

Arrest or detention as punishment for the peaceful exercise of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, is arbitrary and violates the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Burundi has ratified. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights must be immediately released.

Almost since its inception in 1948, no sources of information independent of the government have been allowed to exist. Pyongyang prohibits free expression, gatherings and meetings, and access to information. Freedom of thought and opinion is discouraged from cradle to grave, enforced by a vast and systemic monitoring by formal and informal internal security agents. Arbitrary arrest, prison camps, forced labor, torture, and execution are used by authorities to prevent dissent.

Severe punishments are imposed on North Korean citizens caught listening to or watching broadcasts from outside the country. Access to computers and the internet is restricted to highly-placed party officials. Unauthorized communication with people outside the country is forbidden. Amnesty International has reported on the execution of teenagers for viewing a South Korean television broadcast.

The government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic included closure of borders and the installation of CCTV cameras and motion detectors, making it more difficult for information to enter the country. In December 2020, the DPRK enacted the Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Law, prohibiting the viewing of "anti-socialist ideology and culture." Since January 2023, the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Law stipulates punishment for the use of South Korean dialect or slang.

There are indications that, despite these restrictions, more people in some areas are able to receive broadcasts emanating from outside the country. This makes the work of outlets such as NK Radio, Radio Free Asia, and the Voice of America increasingly crucial.