Press Freedom Triumph: Burundi’s Efforts to Decriminalize Journalism

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Burundi’s Efforts to Decriminalize Journalism

The Burundi government has recently taken a significant step towards press freedom by adopting a bill to eliminate prison sentences for journalists facing ethics complaints. This move endorsed unanimously at a Cabinet meeting on February 9, chaired by President Evariste Ndayishimiye, is seen as a positive shift in aligning the country’s media regulations with international democratic standards.

Under the new bill, journalists found violating journalism ethics will face fines ranging from $350 to $523, as determined by a judge based on the gravity of the alleged offense. The National Communication Council will be crucial in monitoring media ethics and referring cases to the judiciary when necessary.

While most media workers have welcomed this development, some express reservations. Concerns about the need for tangible actions to demonstrate Burundi’s commitment to press freedom have been raised. The case of Floriane Irangabiye, a commentator and program host of Radio Igicaniro, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence for endangering the integrity of Burundi’s national territory, remains a contentious issue.

Authorities detained Irangabiye in August 2022, and she was convicted in January 2023. Advocates argue that her release would be a more concrete step towards supporting press freedom in the country.

The Burundi Journalists Alliance (BJA) has lauded the decision to eliminate prison sentences, emphasizing that journalists, like anyone else, can make mistakes while pursuing stories. However, some media organizations in Burundi remain skeptical, questioning whether the move is a response to pressure from advocates of free press, especially those campaigning for Irangabiye’s release.

The bill’s journey to becoming law involves further steps, including the communications minister overseeing changes to the 2018 media law. Once finalized, the bill will go through both chambers and the president for approval. While the decision marks progress, some journalists and human rights activists emphasize that genuine commitment to press freedom should also include the release of currently jailed journalists. The debate over the new law’s effectiveness and sincerity will likely continue as it moves through the legislative process.

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