Burundi: AFEX welcomes the lifting of the ban on BBC

Photo: Evrard Ngendakumana/Xinhua via Getty)

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) welcomes the decision of the Burundi media regulator, the National Council of Communication (CNC), to lift the ban on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) services in the country and calls on the government to also lift also the sanction on Voice of America (VOA).

After almost three years of suspension of the BBC in Burundi, the CNC announced on March 30, 2022, that it has reached an agreement with the media outlet to lift the ban.

“We have decided to allow BBC Radio to reopen from today. The CNC had suspended BBC Radio for professional misconduct, and then on the recommendation of the President of the Republic Évariste Ndayishimiye; the CNC should sit down with the sanctioned media outlet to settle the problems once and for all,” said CNC president Vestine Mbundagu.

Both BBC and VOA, were suspended from broadcasting in the country on May 2019, following some critical publications on alleged incidents of human rights abuses under the late President Pierre Nkurunziza. The authorities accused the two international media houses of spreading falsehoods.

While the inauguration of the incumbent President was greeted with a glimmer of hope for press freedom, not much has changed in the media landscape, as the country is still ranked as not free by Freedom House. Several journalists have imposed self-censorship on critical issues, out of fear for their life, and retaliation.

On August 19 and 31, 2021, President Evariste Ndayishimiye, in a public address, verbally attacked Esdras Ndikumana, a journalist and correspondent of the French public international radio station, RFI over critical media reportage on COVID-19. He also verbally attacked another journalist, Antoine Kaburahe, founder of the privately-owned media, Iwacu.

Burundi has a notorious record of crackdowns on press freedom, with several journalists exiled following the foiled coup d’état attempt of 2015.

The authorities are yet to come up with any report of thorough investigation into the disappearance of journalist Jean Bigirmana in July 2016.

While AFEX welcomes the lifting of the ban imposed on BBC, we are, however, of the view that Burundian authorities must demonstrate more commitment by upholding and respecting press freedom and freedom of expression.