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Press briefing note on DRC and Burundi

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Subjects:   DRC and  Burundi
Date: 6 February 2015

(1) DRC

At least 300 people remain in detention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after mass arrests during the recent protests there, in Kinshasa and in Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the DRC. Of these, at least 11 are believed to be in incommunicado detention, including prominent civil society representative Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba. His family members and defence lawyers have had no news of him for more than two weeks. This raises serious due process concerns.

The UN joint human rights office in the DRC has been working with the authorities to secure the release of all those who have been illegally detained, as they enter their third week of detention without access to lawyers. We reiterate our call to the authorities to release all those imprisoned for exercising their right to peaceful assembly, for expression of their views, for their affiliation with the opposition or for disagreeing with the amendments to the electoral bill.

Internet and mobile text messaging services have also been restricted for more than two weeks now, causing great disruption, particularly to vulnerable communities. We urge the Government to promptly re-establish these services and to create a space for civil society discussion, to avoid entrenching the divisions in the country ahead of the upcoming elections.

(2) Burundi

We are concerned about the arrest and detention of Burundian journalist Bob Rugurika, the Director of the independent Radio publique africaine (RPA). Rugurika was arrested on 20 January following RPA broadcasts which included allegations about the involvement of senior intelligence officials in the killing of three Italian nuns. This past Wednesday, 4 February, a Bujumbura court refused to hear a request by his lawyers for his provisional release. The journalist may face long-term imprisonment for complicity in murder, among other charges could be considered.

Rugurika’s case raises serious concerns about the exercise of the freedom of expression in Burundi, particularly ahead of the upcoming elections. We have previously urged the Government to review the Media Law, which requires journalists to reveal their sources when they report on issues such as state security and public order. The legislation leads all too easily to infringements of freedom of expression.

We call on the authorities to ensure that Rugurika’s case will be handled in line with international due process standards and fair trial guarantees, in accordance with Burundi’s international commitments. No one should be prosecuted for legitimately exercising his fundamental right to freedom of expression and opinion. The UN Human Rights country office in Burundi has visited Rugurika in prison, has held discussions with the authorities and will continue to monitor the case.

For more information or media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org).

Audio recordings of the press briefing will be made available in the early afternoon, Geneva time, on: http://goo.gl/54O06t 

Video footage will also be available early afternoon, Geneva time, on the following website, under the "Geneva press briefings" tab: http://webtv.un.org/media/ 

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