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Burundi, Congo & Rwanda: No press freedom

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BURUNDI: Interview with Cyprien Ndikumana, director of freedom of
expression centre

BUJUMBURA, 26 September (IRIN) - Cyprien Ndikumana is director of the
Centre for Promotion of Freedom of Expression and Tolerance in the Great
Lakes region (CPFETGL) and also of the Burundi Press House. In an
interview with IRIN in Bujumbura, he talks about freedom of expression
in the Great Lakes region.


QUESTION: How freely can people express themselves in Burundi, Rwanda
and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?

ANSWER: Freedom of expression is respected neither in Rwanda, Burundi,
nor the DRC due to the war prevailing in those countries. In fact, there
is no freedom of expression nor of the press. The media is censored in
all three countries. Those in power and the army do not allow
journalists and members of the opposition to criticise them.

Our centre was stopped from organising a training session for
journalists based on the themes of rights and the professional code of
ethics, although we already had a sponsor. All this aims at making sure
that freedom of the press does not become a reality in our region. It
also shows that a lot remains to be done by members of the civil society
and journalists.

Q: How do restrictions on freedom of expression compare in the three
countries?

A: Some progress has been made in Burundi compared to other countries in
the Great Lakes region because we have many private radios and the media
environment has greatly improved in recent times. But Radio Publique
Africaine and Radio Bonesha have also had problems in recent days. This
shows that journalists should get mobilised and work together to
safeguard freedom of the press.

There are also financial constraints in addition to the problems
mentioned before. The Renouveau (a government-owned daily paper), for
example, issues only 1,000 copies at a time, is not regular and has
almost come to a halt. Ubumwe (a Kirundi weekly owned by government) is
also not regular, and does not reach rural areas. These problems are
serious. That is why we have acquired printing equipment which has
already arrived at the international airport. It will allow journalists
to produce their newspapers at a lower cost and also allow newspapers
which were forced to close down to reopen.

Q: Rwanda recently published a media bill. In your view will it make the
work of journalists any easier?

A: This new law opens up the media and is a positive development. We
have been informed that seven radios have applied for registration at
the ministry of territorial administration. This is a great achievement
in Rwanda and will open up the media both there and the region.

Q: What about eastern DRC, which is currently under rebel control?

A: The situation there is also affected by the war and the prevailing
economic conditions. Our correspondent there, for example, has problems
feeding our website because he has to pay five dollars per minute in an
internet-café. All this hinders the freedom of the press. Also because
eastern DRC is an occupied region journalists cannot freely make
criticisms. Some newspapers have even had to close down.

Q: What about claims that journalists have also been accused of fuelling
conflicts in the region?

A: In the past some journalists have published hate messages here in
Burundi, in Rwanda and the DRC. Everybody is aware of the fact that in
1993, 1994 and 1996 newspapers controlled by political parties preached
hatred. Journalists are reorganising themselves today but a lot remains
to be done. We have to respect the professional code of ethics.

That is why we also hope that the Rwandese government will register our
subregional organisation which has a noble objective and aims at making
sure journalists are united and can contribute to the restoration of
peace.