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Burundi suspends BBC in fresh media clampdown

A radio studio. Burundi communication regulator has withdrawn the BBC’s operating licence and extended ban on VOA. (PHOTO/COURTESY)

BUJUMBURA – Burundi on Friday banned the BBC World Service from operating, adding extra pressure to journalists in a country already ranked amongst the worst in the world for press freedom.

The National Communications Council (CNC) had already suspended FM radio broadcasts of the BBC and the Voice of America (VOA) in May 2018.

The broadcasts, in Burundi’s Kirundi language as well as in French and English, had been a popular news source across the country.

The BBC had its operating licence taken away, while the suspension against VOA’s broadcasts was extended.

Media regulators warned against journalists supplying either the BBC or VOA with the news.

“It is strictly prohibited for any Burundian journalist or foreign national who are in the country to provide, directly or indirectly, information that can be broadcast” by the BBC or the VOA, the CNC said.

In press freedom rankings calculated by Reporters without Borders (RSF) Burundi is already ranked 159 out of 180 in the world.

“The unwarranted decision of the Burundi government to ban the BBC and suspend indefinitely Voice of America strikes a serious blow against media freedom, and we strongly condemn it,” the BBC said in a statement.

“We believe it is vital for people around the world to have access to impartial, accurate and independent journalism, including the 1.3 million people in Burundi who currently rely on BBC news.”

Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza sought in April 2015 a fiercely-contested third term in office.

The violence has claimed at least 1,200 lives and displaced more than 400,000 people between April 2015 and May 2017, according to estimates by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has opened an investigation.

The CNC authority highlighted a BBC television documentary broadcast in December, a report the BBC said showed how the security services ran secret torture sites to silence dissent.

Bujumbura denied the story.

Burundi suspended VOA because the broadcaster worked with radio journalist Patrick Nduwimana, who the government accuses of having taken part in a failed coup in May 2015.

BBC and VOA broadcasts continue on short wave frequencies, which can be listened to inside the country by anyone with the necessary radio.

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