September 15, 2016 / By Elsa Buchanan
Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has reiterated its call on Burundian authorities to launch an independent investigation into the alleged forced disappearance of Burundian journalist Jean Bigirimana.
Burundi’s media was among the first casualties of violence that has rocked the country since end of April. In May 2015, IBTimes UK exclusively reported how local journalists had gone into hiding as they feared they were on an alleged hit-list rolled out by the country’s government after the failed coup d’etat.
Bigirimana, a journalist at independent media group Iwacu, was arrested on 22 July after leaving his home in the capital Bujumbura for Bugarama, a town located 25-miles away in the central province of Muramvya.
There are unconfirmed reports that he was arrested there by members of the intelligence services but, three days after Bigirimana vanished, police spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye denied security forces had arrested Bigirimana.
RSF: ‘Light must be shed on what happened to him’
Echoing the paper’s founder, RSF said the Burundian authorities must investigate the missing reporter’sdisappearance.
“Reporters Without Borders calls on the Burundian authorities to launch an independent investigation into the disappearance of Jean Bigirimana, a journalist who has been missing since 22 July 2016,” the organisationstated in its petition, that has already received over 5,880 signatures.
IBTimes UK reported that an unofficial investigation – carried out by Bigirimana’s colleagues at Iwacu – had led to the discovery of two bodies during a search for the missing journalist in the Mubarazi river. They were close to where the reporter was seen for the last time but they were badly decomposed.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Burundian authorities made no further attempt to identify the victims or establish the cause of death through autopsies or DNA tests after they were recovered by the Red Cross and a Burundian emergency services team. Local officials buried the bodies before they could be identified.
“Deprived of all information, his family and colleagues live in state of constant anxiety. Light must be shed on what happened to him,” RSF said.
In August, the advocacy group had already appealed to the President Pierre Nkurunziza “to do everything possible” to locate Bigirimana.
Burundi, former model of media pluralism
Before the crisis, Burundi was regarded throughout the region as a model of media pluralism and professional journalism. Burundi is now ranked 156th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, after dropping 11 places in one year.
RSF’s demand comes as the organisation launched a petition urging the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a ‘Protector of Journalists‘, a position which RSF describes as “hav(ing) the political weight, the capacity to act quickly, and the legitimacy to save journalists lives”.Nearly 800 journalists have died or been killed worldwide in the last 10 years, according to RSF data.