Burundi: Internet Sans Frontières calls on the government to safeguard freedoms in the information space



The ongoing popular unrest in Burundi has led the authorities to momentarily suppress access to several social media and communication applications such as Whatsapp. Internet Sans Frontières calls on the Burundian government to ensure the free flow of information, public debate and the right to assemble, even online, in order to resume a peaceful path to democracy.



Demonstrations in Nyakabiga, Burundi - Photo from Facebook page 'Iwacu Voix du Burundi'
Demonstrations in Nyakabiga, Burundi - Photo from Facebook page 'Iwacu Voix du Burundi'
 

The people of Burundi have worked hard to overcome 13 years of conflict and lay the foundations of a young, fragile, democracy.

Their hard won peace was compromised a few days ago when the ruling CNDD-FDD party declared current president Pierre Nkurunziza as their candidate for the upcoming June 26 presidential elections - his 3rd bid - , hence knowingly infringing upon the Arusha Peace Accords (2003) and Burundi Constitution (2005).
 

With such blatant disregard for national symbols, Pierre Nkurunziza and the CNDD-FDD have set off civil unrest in which broader grievance are crystallized in what is being called “3rd term protests”.  According to the Burundi Red Cross, 6 people have already been killed in 3 days of brutal police repression and Imbonerakure militia violence.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called on the “Burundian authorities to conduct a prompt investigation into the deaths that occurred during the recent demonstrations so that those responsible are held accountable.”  http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=8585

 

As the surge of 24 000 Burundian refugees threatens to destabilise the region, the Burundian government is set to derail it’s own democratic process by silencing opposition, media and civil society.
 

Opposition figures, journalists and prominent human rights defenders, including Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa (APRODH) have been detained (now released). Arrest warrants for other civil society leaders such as Pacifique N ininahazwe (FOCODE) and Vital Nshimirimana (FORSC) have been issued and they remain wanted by the Burundian authorities.
 

Efforts are being made by the international community to deploy Information Technology in order to guaranty transparent elections in Burundi, however,  the government is cracking down on traditional media as well as new.

 

To secure Pierre Nkurunziza’s presidential bid, the government seems to be waging a two-pronged offensive on the information space. On one front, it is creating an information vacuum by censorship of the main sources of information including the main RPA radio, which have been shut down by the police as of sunday 26th April, after 4 stations implemented a broadcasting synergy in three languages (Kirundi, French and English). Also, and depending on service providers, Internet and 3G mobile communications are disrupted. Highly popular messaging services such as Viber and WhatsApp have been blocked at Telecom Operator's level .

 
On the other front, the Burundi government is filling the censorship vacuum with misinformation and propaganda, broadcast via state and CNDDFDD affiliated radios such as Radio Rema. On social media also, official CNDDFDD and newly created accounts are threatening or trolling opposition voices - steering the narrative away from a politically motivated conflict, towards that of an ethnic based strife - a dangerous trend, considering the region’s recent and horrendous genocides.

The EU’s EEAS has issued a statement on monday, conditioning EU contribution (election monitoring and development funds) on how the Burundi government intends to respect peaceful, credible and inclusive elections.
 

In the Great Lakes region, election season is just beginning. Almost the entire region will be going to the polls between now and 2017.

How the international community reacts now to gross human rights violations committed by Burundi’s ruling party may determine outcomes in other national elections.
 

For Burundi it’s not too late. The National Defense Forces (NDF), mobilised since sunday 26th April, is perceived, by the protestors, to be playing a neutral role - the only institution yet willing to protect their basic human freedom to march peacefully. If tensions don’t escalate, the army might avoid succombing to its own internal politics and maintain its essential role in preserving the people’s fundamental right to assemble.
 

But other rights are being trampled - including that of free speech.


Internet Sans Frontières calls on the Burundian government to de-escalate the political conflict via dialogue, not only between elites, but on on all levels of society. The free flow of information, public debate and the right to assemble, even online, must be ensured to resume a peaceful path to democracy.

 

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526,372 Internet users as of Dec 31, 2014
Internet penetration rate : 4.9%

Mobile penetration : 34% as of Dec 31, 2014

http://www.budde.com.au/Research/Burundi-Telecoms-Mobile-and-Broadband-Market-Insights-and-Statistics.html?r=51
 

Lumitel

Vietel

SmartBurundi

Leo

Econet

Africell
 

In June 2013 President Nkurunziza approved a new media law which critics condemned as an attack on press freedom. The law forbids reporting on matters that could "undermine national security, public order or the economy".
 

More than 250,000 people died in Burundi's civil war between Hutu rebels and a Tutsi-dominated army. The 2003 Arusha Peace Accord ended the war. Those who oppose Nkurunziza running for a third term include members of his own party, lawmakers, the clergy, student groups and civil society.

More than 20,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring Rwanda, citing pressure to support Nkurunziza's party. Others alleged violence by the ruling party's youth wing, known as Imbonerakure, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

#StopNkurunziza #sindumuja
 

Further reading :

https://misterburundi.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/the-april-demon/

http://christophvogel.net/2015/04/27/burundi-key-actors-and-speculative-musings/

https://contactdispatch.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/tense-burundi-what-does-the-armys-recent-warning-really-mean-by-archie-henry/
 

Burundi twitter list :

https://twitter.com/WCM_JustSocial/lists/burundi

 



Stephanie Lamy


 


Mercredi 29 Avril 2015






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