Posts Tagged ‘Alexis Sinduhije’
For more background on this, see yesterday’s post
From Agence France Press
BUJUMBURA — Burundian police on Tuesday freed an opposition leader they had confined to a relative’s house since the weekend for allegedly holding an illegal meeting.
Alexis Sinduhije, a former journalist, had been surrounded by police at a relative’s house in the eastern Ruyigi town since late Sunday, letting no one in or out of the house.
“I do not know why I was detained. I was not questioned and early this morning the police chief called just to say I was free to go and said nothing more,” Sinduhije told AFP by phone.
“The government does what it can to intimidate me because it is afraid of what I stand for. It is scared of losing the 2010 elections,” he added.
Sinduhije, 42, had previously been arrested in November 2008 for contempt against the head of state and freed in March after pressure by the international community.
His Movement for Solidarity and Development was registered as a political party only last month.
He launched the party at the end of 2007 when he stepped down from his job as the director of Radio Publique Africaine, one of the country’s most popular radio stations.
Presidential, national assembly and senate elections are due in Burundi next year. Opposition parties have accused President Pierre Nkurunziza of curbing basic freedoms in recent months in order to secure re-election.
Alexis Sinduhije detained (again) – reportedly on the orders of Burundi’s “born again” President, Pierre Nkurunziza (again)
Alexis’s release earlier this year. He was detained again this week.
Alexis Sinduhije is a former Burundian journalist who I’ve been in contact with over my sister’s case for a number of years, and who featured in my first book, Titanic Express. Alexis recently launched a multi-ethnic opposition party, the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD), and has already spent several months in prison for his troubles, prior to his release earlier this year, following massive international pressure.
This arrived by email this morning via the MSD Facebook group:
The commissioner of police in Ruyigi says that Alexis has not been arrested – he is just in for questions……..
Yesterday Alexis went to Ruyigi and in the evening was in the house of the family of a cousin when the house was surrounded by police. He was then removed and taken to the chef lieu where he has been for questioning – a team has gone to join him in Ruyigi and as we get more details we will tell you. The Governor and the Procurer [public prosecutor] are not answering their phones. When Human Rights Watch called the Police Commissioner he said ” that he was not arrested – but just being asked questions”.
It appears that Nkurunziza and co will keep harassing Alexis – one story on the ground is that it was Peter himself that send the instructions for Alexis to be arrested. They do not want him to be with his supporters in the collines! when will freedom of opinion be tolerated?
A few days ago I wrote about the release of Burundi opposition leader (and former journalist) Alexis Sinduhije, who I describe meeting in my book “Titanic Express”, and who has been very supportive over the case. I had been following Alexis’s fate since his arrest on trumped-up charges last November.
Now Alexis’s party, the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (renamed recently from “Movement for Security and Democracy” after the authorities ruled it illegal for a party to include the word “Security” in its name) has reported that the bolts on the wheels of Alexis’s car have been tampered with, apparently with the intention of causing an accident. Although the damage was spotted and repaired before any harm could result, Alexis and his colleagues were then followed by the police, arrested, and held for several hours.
Although Alexis has since been released (again), the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that a number of those arrested with him are still being held.
BUJUMBURA (Reuters) – A political activist jailed in Burundi four months ago for insulting President Pierre Nkurunziza was freed on Thursday and thanked Western nations which had pushed for his release.
Alexis Sinduhije, a prominent former journalist who founded a political party in 2007, was named in Time magazine’s 2008 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, under the category “Heroes & Pioneers”.
Hundreds of supporters, some diplomats and several human rights activists gathered from early morning outside the main prison in the capital Bujumbura. Some waved placards bearing his picture alongside U.S. President Barack Obama.
“I would like to thank particularly European countries like Britain, France, Germany and Belgium,” Sinduhije told reporters after his release. “I have got back my freedom because those countries put a lot of pressure on the Burundian authorities.”
Burundi was seen as an African success story after a long U.N.-backed peace process led to the election in 2005 of former rebel leader Nkurunziza. But the central African nation is often criticised for the way it deals with dissent, and Sinduhije had been especially harsh about its record on human rights.
“A victory for truth and justice” – Burundi opposition leader Alexis Sinduhije acquitted following major international pressure
Alexis Sinduhije speaks about his activism in an interview last year
-Update - the MSD say that Alexis is now free following his acquittal: “Bonne nouvelle – maintenant c’est vrai – il quitte la prison central. Tout le monde fête sa liberté – la ville de Bujumbura est devenue une grande célébration – les véhicules ne circulent pas… Merci pour le soutien”
Alexis Sinduhije, the Burundian former journalist (and now an opposition activist) who has been supportive of the Titanic Express case, and who I wrote about in my book of the same name, was arrested last November and charged with contempt for the President.
The CNDD-FDD ruling party, an ex-militia group led by a warlord-turned “born again Christian”, Pierre Nkurunziza, took particular exception to Alexis having launched his own political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy (now renamed the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy, after the government announced that it was illegal for any political party to include the word “security” in its name).
Having risen to prominence as founder and director of “Radio Publique Africaine”, a radio station promoting reconciliation between the Hutu and Tutsi communities, Alexis is a popular figure in Burundi. Amid growing discontent over its corruption and brutality, CNDD-FDD fears that it may lose the 2010 elections and has been doing all it can to suppress any serious political opposition.
But the problem for a corrupt ex-militia group bent on preserving its own power in a small poverty-stricken nation heavily dependent on foreign aid, is that there comes a point at which European aid donors’ embarrassment at the way their money is being used starts to overcome their traditional reticence about human rights abuses by “client states” such as Burundi.
From Agence France Presse
BUJUMBURA (AFP) — A Burundi court acquitted leading opposition leader and former journalist Alexis Sinduhije Wednesday who had been charged with contempt for the president, his lawyer and judicial sources said.
“This is a victory for justice and truth that we owe to a great extent to pressures exercised on this country’s authorities,” Sinduhije’s lawyer Prosper Niyoyankana told AFP.
Several European ministers had urged Bujumbura to release Sinduhije, who was detained in November with 37 other founding members of his Movement of Security and Democracy party. The others were released shortly after.
Prosecutors in February demanded a two-and-a-half year sentence against Sinduhije for allegedly blaming purported corruption and murder scandals of the ruling CNDD-FDD party on “the man who spends all his time in prayer service.”
President Pierre Nkurunziza is said to be a born-again Christian who frequently organises large religious services.
Sinduhije, 42, founded the popular Radio Publique Africaine (African Public Radio) in 2001 in a bid to foster reconciliation between Tutsi and Hutu communities.
He then launched his party in December 2007 and vowed to run for the presidency in 2010.
He was picked by Time magazine last April in its annual selection of the world’s 100 most influential people.
As I reported last year, two of the Burundians whose work informed my first book “Titanic Express” are now Amnesty International “Prisoners of Conscience”.
The journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested last September and charged with “defaming” the head of state after daring to write an article about the Burundian President’s expenditure at the Beijing Olympics.
The opposition leader and former journalist Alexis Sinduhije was arrested in November during a political crackdown on his party, the Movement for Security and Democracy.
Supporters of Amnesty, and of the Movement for Security and Democracy, have been lobbying both Burundi’s government and its (mostly European) aid donors over the case. The MSD has raised pointed questions about the wisdom of aid donors continuing to give money to a regime in which corruption is endemic, and that prefers to spend its resources consolidating its own power than helping its people.
The UK government and others say that they are lobbying on this issue behind the scenes. Now the Belgian Development Minister Charles Michel, in a speech on aid, has called explicitly for Alexis and Jean-Claude to be released, along with another political prisoner, union leader Juvenal Rududira.
Earlier this week, members of the Burundian diaspora and their supporters demonstrated in Brussels, calling on the European Union – a major aid donor to Burundi’s government – to help secure the release of Alexis Sinduhije.
Alexis, who as an award-winning journalist helped a great deal over the years with efforts to secure justice over the massacre in which my sister was killed, was arrested on November 3rd and charged with “contempt for the President” after seeking to establish a new, multi-ethnic political party.
Amnesty International has added its voice to those highlighting the worsening human rights situation in Burundi – and in particular the arbitrary arrest of the journalist-turned-opposition activist Alexis Sinduhije. I met Alexis in person back in 2002, and he helped me enormously when I was researching Titanic Express. I’ve been following events closely since he was arrested earlier this month.
From Amnesty International:
UA 318/08 Arbitrary arrest/ prisoner of conscience
BURUNDI Alexis Sinduhije (m)
Alexis Sinduhije, the President of the Movement for Security and Democracy (Mouvement pour la Sécurité et la Démocratie, MSD), a political opposition group, was arrested on 3 November during a MSD party meeting. Thirty-six others were also arrested, but have since been released. Alexis Sinduhije is currently detained in Mpimba Central Prison in the capital, Bujumbura. He is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for expressing his political views.
The ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy, (Conseil national de défense et de la démocratie-Forces de défense et de la démocratie – CNDD-FDD), has recently denied opposition parties the right to peaceful assembly by preventing them from holding meetings without government authorization. Human rights monitors initially thought the arrests were made because the meeting had been held without authorization. The MSD had also had problems registering as a political party.
On 11 November, Alexis Sinduhije was brought before the deputy prosecutor at the Prosecutor’s office in Bujumbura. He was subsequently charged for showing “contempt for the Head of State” (“outrage au chef de l’etat”). The charges were based on documents seized during the arrests which were apparently critical of the President’s development policies. His file should go before the advisory chamber (chambre de conseil) within several days when the acting Judge will decide whether or not to grant him provisional release.
The arrest of Alexis Sinduhije has raised considerable concern amongst members of civil society and the international community about the protection of civil and political rights in Burundi. The United States, the European Union and the UK strongly condemned Alexis Sinduhije’s arrest. The CNDD-FDD has shown increasing intolerance towards political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders perceived as being critical towards them.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in French, English or your own language:
- expressing grave concern that Alexis Sinduhije has been detained on a charge of“contempt for the Head of State”, simply for being critical of the President’s development policies;
- urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;
- reminding the authorities that Burundi is a state party to both the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression.
Président de la République
Présidence de la République
Boulevard de l’Uprona
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Monsieur le Président/Excellence
Minister of Justice and Keeper of Seals
Monsieur Jean-Bosco Ndikumana
Ministre de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux
Ministère de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux
Fax: +257 22 21 86 10
Salutation: Monsieur le Ministre
Monsieur Yves Sahinguvu
Présidence de la République
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Monsieur le Premier Vice-président/Excellence
The Prosecutor of the Republic
Monsieur Elyse Ndaye
Procureur Générale de la République
Fax : +257 22 25 88 44
Salutation: Monsieur le Procureur / Dear Procureur
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of Burundi accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 31 December 2008.
The Burundian activist Frederic Gateretse has launched a campaign to free Alexis Sinduhije, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu and the other political prisoners arrested in President Nkurunziza’s latest crackdown on dissent.
Both Alexis and Jean-Claude were enormously helpful to me while I was researching and writing Titanic Express (and I quote extensively from Alexis in the book’s final chapter), so I’m happy to support them now.
Frederic Gateretse says:
It appears the government has decided to focus on winning the upcoming 2010 general elections at all cost for the alternative will be disastrous to the current leadership which has a lot to answer to in terms of corruption, mismanagement of public funds, human rights violations and the scrapping of political freedom.
From the Boston Globe
A Burundi opposition leader was charged yesterday in Bujumbura with contempt for the president, despite strong condemnation of his arrest last week by State Department officials and human rights groups in the United States.
Alexis Sinduhije, a former radio journalist who has defied threats to his life for years, was a Shorenstein fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1997 and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people this year.
“This is a purely political matter. It has nothing to do with the law,” Sinduhije’s lawyer Prosper Niyoyankana said yesterday, Agence France-Presse reported. “Alexis Sinduhije, like other political prisoners in this country, is being punished by the government for their criticism” of the regime.
Sinduhije was arrested in Bujumbura on Nov. 3 with 37 other founding members of the Movement for Security and Democracy, a newly-created opposition party dedicated to reaching out to both Hutu and Tutsi citizens in a country plagued by civil war and ethnic violence. The State Department called last week for their immediate release.
The others were freed last week, according to news reports. But the case against Sinduhije, a contender for Burundi’s presidential election in 2010, appears to be going forward. It is based on documents allegedly criticizing Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza that were found in his home, according to press reports citing his lawyer.
The news has sparked anguish and dismay at Harvard, where several specialists on journalism and human rights have followed Sinduhije’s career.
“I very much hope that wisdom and cooler heads will prevail and he will be released quickly,” said Alex S. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School. “He is very highly regarded as a journalist. His core values are ones of telling the truth.”
Sinduhije, 43, became a celebrated national figure – and an international hero – when he founded an independent radio station in 2001 that encouraged reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi Burundians. At his radio station, Radio Publique Africaine, he put former soldiers from both the Tutsi and Hutu ethnicities to work as journalists covering the country’s attempt to heal from years of civil war.
Sinduhije has been threatened, beaten, and arrested repeatedly throughout his years as a journalist. The government banned his station in 2003 for airing an interview with a spokesman for an armed rebel group. But the ban was lifted days later, when other stations boycotted government news until it was lifted. The same year, unidentified assailants fired at his home, killing his night watchman in an alleged assassination attempt, according to a 2004 State Department report on human rights practices.
In 2005, the government suspended his radio station for 48 hours for “offending public morals” by reporting the rape of an 8-year-old girl and threatening public security by “deforming” the words of Tutsi politician and former president Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, a 2006 State Department human rights report said.
Sinduhije frequently spoke of the time he spent interviewing African-Americans in Boston and New York as the most challenging thing he had ever done, former colleagues said. He was stunned by their lack of knowledge of his homeland and called the research into what African-Americans know of Africa as “the most difficult task of my career,” according to a research paper he wrote for the Shorenstein Center.
In 2004, Sinduhije received the International Press Freedom Award from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Last year, he left journalism to found a new political party, and announced his intention to run for president. The move earned him a place on Time magazine’s list of influential people.
Criticizing Burundi’s “forgiving”
President (r) can land you in jail
I met Pierre Nkurunziza in London in the autumn of 2004, a few months after I’d started writing Titanic Express. At the time, CNDD-FDD was still a rebel movement, and Nkurunziza had just been appointed Burundi’s “Minister for Good Governance”. This particular choice of post seemed cruelly ironic, even then, to many of those who had lost loved ones in CNDD-FDD attacks. Given Nkurunziza’s subsequent track record as President it seems even more so now.
Nkurunziza was elected by a landslide in the summer of 2005, amid high hopes that the predominantly Hutu CNDD-FDD rebel group had succeeded in transforming itself into a genuinely multi-ethnic political party, committed to a peaceful and democratic future for Burundi. As I wrote in December of the following year, these hopes were quickly dashed. Nkurunziza’s time in office has been characterised by corruption, political intransigence, and increasingly brutal attacks on the political opposition.
Matters have been complicated by Nkurunziza’s success in portraying himself as the model of the “forgiving” Christian post-conflict African President, with all the positive associations that this carries internationally. Conflict Resolution NGOs and some international donors have repeatedly hailed Burundi as a success story, even though corruption has been rife and violence ongoing, with still no conclusion to the seemingly endless “peace process”.
When the popular independent journalist Alexis Sinduhije last year launched a new political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy – with a multi-ethnic leadership and, unusually for a Burundian political movement, no armed wing – the government refused to allow it to register, and has been increasingly hostile as the months passed.
In September, the journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested and accused of “defaming” Pierre Nkurunziza after reporting on his personal expenditure at the Beijing Olympics. Today, the BBC reports that Alexis Sinduhije has been jailed on similar charges over his activities as an opposition leader, following his arrest last week. The Movement for Security and Democracy report that their activists across the country are being rounded up and detained. Clearly Nkurunziza’s “forgiving” approach doesn’t apply to those who question his conduct in office. Many Burundians I know are pessimistic that the upcoming 2010 elections will be anything remotely approaching “free and fair”.
A lot of this was quite predictable. I have Burundian friends who did, in fact, predict broadly this state of affairs as soon as it became clear that CNDD-FDD was on course to take power. Nkurunziza’s supposed commitment to democracy and a genuinely multi-ethnic approach was nothing more than window dressing, I was told. The international community was kidding itself if it thought that an armed group with such a track record of brutality and extortion would even be capable of changing its ways once it had its hands on the levers of power, especially when its many crimes had gone unpunished (a 2003 deal granted CNDD-FDD fighters “provisional immunity” from prosecution. Five years on, this supposedly temporary measure still stands).
I knew all this, and yet I wanted to believe. When I met Nkurunziza in London he seemed cordial enough. My friend Desiré took him and his entourage shopping after the meeting. How could a man who goes to buy toys for his kids on Oxford Street be such a bad dude? Next to the psychotic excesses of the Hutu-extremist group Palipehutu-FNL, the CNDD-FDD Hutu rebels looked positively moderate.
But they weren’t, and they never had been. The qualities that it takes to become a successful warlord are very different from those needed to be an effective and successful statesman. Recent history is littered with examples of those who failed to make the transition. Brutal civil wars tend to breed a certain kind of mentality, and armed groups like CNDD-FDD attract a certain sort of person – the kind of person who’s comfortable taking and giving orders, and is prepared to engage in acts of extreme violence in order to get their job done.
When CNDD-FDD signed a peace deal, many such people gained lucrative positions in the government and the security forces, safe in the knowledge that they were effectively immune from prosecution for the abuses they’d previously committed – and would be for as long as they could hold onto power. It shouldn’t really have been a great surprise that Burundi’s new elite continued to behave as ruthlessly as they had whilst fighting in the bush – or that they are proving reluctant to cede power peacefully now that their popular support has begun to dwindle. It shouldn’t really have been such a surprise, in short, that Nkurunziza’s Burundi would start to look more like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe than Mandela’s South Africa. When we set aside the hopeful rhetoric, the cold reality is that ex-warlords generally tend to lean more towards despotism than democracy.
So why did we fall for it? I suspect that a certain kind of insidious relativism can set in when we’re looking at a situation as extreme as Burundi. Politicians such as Pierre Buyoya, whose style is more to orchestrate targeted assassinations of his opponents and rivals than to actively incite genocide, come to seem like “moderates”. Rebel groups like CNDD-FDD, who at least talk about the need to turn their back on ethnic divisionism and embrace a multi-ethnic membership, seem reasonable and democratic, even as their leaders continue to bully the general population and line their own pockets.
But one further factor that I think deserves much more scrutiny than it has hitherto been given is the extent to which – both in Burundi and elsewhere – international mediators often have a clear agenda of their own, which may not necessarily be in the best interests of the people they are ostensibly trying to help. “Peace” is now something of a lucrative business – from the NGOs raking in millions to Do Conflict Resolution in troubled regions of the world, to the career diplomats and politicians looking to declare “mission accomplished” and buff their resumé with plaudits for “bringing peace to [fill in country of choice here]“.
When, in 2003, Nkurunziza came out of the bush and declared his commitment to peace, democracy, and “forgiveness” there were a lot of people with a vested interest in promoting the idea that it was genuine. The fact that the terms of the peace deal sowed the seeds for future abuse and instability was not something that most NGOs (with the notable exceptions of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), “security analysts” or international mediators seemed to want to talk about.
Doubtless a part of it was simple, honest-to-goodness, wishful thinking. But the fact that so much money, and – perhaps even more importantly – so many personal reputations, were at stake in Burundi’s peace process could only have made things more complicated.
Burundi had seen so much horror that it’s perhaps understandable that people would get carried away with the euphoria when things finally seemed to be improving. It should also be said that many things do seem to have improved; the level of violence has gone down and the economy was beginning to recover – but the question is for how long.
Since the violence that exploded after independence in the 1960s, the bloodshed has come in cycles, punctuated by periods of relative stability. Successive generations of politicians have been willing to manipulate tensions, and incite ethnic massacres when faced with pressure to relinquish power. Burundi’s new CNDD-FDD ruling elite have already shown that they are prepared to kill, torture and arbitrarily detain their critics in order to protect their political interests. We can only hope that they pull back from the brink before the situation becomes any more unstable.
From the Committee to Protect Journalists
By Joel Simon/Executive Director
Alexis Sinduhije founded Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) in 2001 to bridge Burundi’s ethnic divide. Divisions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups have sparked widespread and lingering violence throughout the country.
Breaking from the past, Sinduhije hired former fighters from both ethnic groups at RPA and trained them to be serious and responsible journalists.
In 1994, CPJ honored Sinduhije with an International Press Freedom Award. During the week he spent with us, we got to know a man of deep principle whose quiet demeanor belies his fierce determination and courage. RPA remains one of the most popular and critical radio stations in Burundi, but government harassment forced Sinduhije into hiding twice in 2006. In 2007, Sinduhije launched his candidacy for president for the country’s 2010 elections.
On November 3, he was arrested and charged under an arcane anti-conspiracy law barring meetings of more than three people.
As I told The Washington Post, we recognize that Sinduhije’s recent arrest has nothing to do with his journalism. Yet we worry about our friend and colleague and are outraged by his unjust treatment.
Named one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people, Sinduhije has been a voice of reason and common sense in Burundi. The government may be trying desperately to silence him, but his voice must be heard.
Acclaimed opposition activist Alexis Sinduhije has been detained without charge since November 3rd
Click here for more information about Burundi’s Movement for Security and Democracy.
From South Africa’s Independent Online:
Bujumbura – The European Union condemned on Monday the arrest of opposition leaders and activists in Burundi and warned the central African country that such action violates the terms of EU aid to Bujumbura.
In a statement received by AFP, the European Union said it was “surprised” to hear that opposition leader and former journalist Alexis Sinduhije and 37 members of his party were detained on November 3.
“The EU deplores this detention, which comes as journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, trade unionist Juvenal Rududura and several former lawmakers are also held without trial,” it said.
“The EU considers that these arrests do not comply with the democratic and pluralist values which underlie the important years-old economic and social partnership between the EU and Burundi.”
Last week Britain said the arrests raised “concerns about the ability of Burundians to exercise their civil and political rights”, while the US embassy in Bujumbura called them “unacceptable”.
Sinduhije, 42, founded Radio Publique Africaine in 2001 in a bid to foster reconciliation between Tutsi and Hutu communities.
He became one of Burundi’s most prominent journalists, before he launched the Movement for Security and Democracy in December 2007 and vowed to run for the presidency in 2010.
From the Washington Post
The State Department protested the Burundian government’s arrest Monday of an aspiring presidential candidate and former journalist who was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people this year by Time magazine.
Burundian authorities arrested Alexis Sinduhije at his political party’s headquarters in Bujumbura on Monday, along with other party staff members.
“We believe that is unacceptable. We believe he should be released immediately,” Russell Brooks, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, said Friday. “It remains our hope the government of Burundi will work to advance the cause of political freedom and speech in Burundi and allow citizens to exercise universally recognized rights.”
An ethnic Tutsi reporter who adopted a Hutu war orphan, Sinduhije has become a national celebrity in Burundi, a small central African country that has been plagued for more than 15 years by violence between the two ethnic groups.
In 2001 Sinduhije founded Radio Publique Africaine, an independent radio station that promoted reconciliation between the groups.
His reporting has drawn international praise. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists honored Sinduhije in 2004 with its International Press Freedom Award. He has also appeared as a guest on PBS‘s “Charlie Rose” show.
“We wanted to set an example of how relations between the ethnic groups could be humanized,” Sinduhije said in explaining his journalistic mission at the 2004 award ceremony. “We hired former fighters, both Hutu and Tutsi . . . to become fighters for peace and truth.”
Joel Simon, the committee’s executive director, said Sinduhije’s radio station “was a beacon” for those searching for an “alternative to the kind of politics of racial division which had brought Burundi to the brink of genocide.”
Simon said Sinduhije has been repeatedly threatened, beaten and jailed for his work as a reporter. Sinduhije left journalism in December 2007 to compete in Burundi’s 2010 presidential election. The government has refused to formally register his political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy.
“We don’t think this is a press freedom case,” Simon said, noting that the charges were nevertheless “trumped up.” He said, “We’re obviously very concerned about him, and this treatment illustrates the environment in which Burundi’s election is taking place.”
Burundi’s U.N. ambassador, Augustin Nsanze, declined to comment on the arrest.
Over the years, Alexis Sinduhije has been immensely supportive of efforts to get to the truth over the Titanic Express massacre, and secure justice for all Burundi’s victims. Click here for more background on his arrest.
Alexis Sinduhije outlines his political vision earlier this year
Four days ago, the acclaimed Burundian journalist Alexis Sinduhije was arrested for holding an “unauthorised” meeting of his new multi-ethnic political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy. It says something about the state of the world – and the internet’s potential for positive political action – that the message first came through to many of Alexis’ supporters through the MSD’s Facebook page.
The indefatigable US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch quickly issued a statement calling for Alexis’ release – and drawing attention to the Nkurunziza-regime’s wider pattern of suppressing political opposition. This has reportedly now been followed by this message from the US Embassy in Bujumbura:
The United States regards the incarceration by Burundian authorities of Burundian journalist Alexis Sinduhije as unacceptable. Mr. Sinduhije was arrested on November 3 in Bujumbura, reportedly to be questioned for conducting an illegal meeting. To date, he has not been charged. We believe Mr. Sinduhije should be freed immediately. It remains our hope the Government of Burundi will work to advance the cause of political freedom and speech in Burundi and allow citizens to exercise universally recognized rights.
Torture-happy General Adolphe Nshimirimana is rumoured to be behind the attack on Sinduhije
According to the veteran Burundian statesman Gratien Rukindikiza, Alexis was arrested at the behest of the appropriately-named secret police chief, General Adolphe Nshimirimana – Burundi being the only country I know in the world where any variation of the name “Adolf” is still in common use.
Nshimirimana, who has previously been implicated in the systematic torture of Palipehutu-FNL “suspects”, has, according to Rukindikiza, accused Alexis, without evidence, of recruiting fighters for the Congolese Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda – and also levelled the same allegation at Rukindikiza himself.
“That story made me laugh”, Rukindikiza says. “If I was recruiting for any cause, I would recruit thousands of agronomists to help fight famine with modern agricultural methods”.
This latest episode in Burundi’s ongoing political saga has echoes of the Nkurunziza regime’s abortive attempt, back in 2006, to implicate virtually the entire political opposition, both Hutu and Tutsi, in a fictitious plot to assassinate the President. Then as now, the Burundian authorities sought to tie Alexis Sinduhije to the nefarious conspiracy – yet he emerged more popular than ever.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue that bogus conspiracy theories are not the exclusive preserve of dodgy men in pubs. Dodgy men in government are often at it too – and Adolphe Nshimirimana’s latest fabricated conspiracy smear against Alexis Sinduhije seems like a very good example.
The Burundi authorities’ 2006 attempt to squash all political opposition on the pretext of a bogus conspiracy fell apart under pressure from the international donors who continue to bankroll much of the country’s budget.
As the 2010 elections approach, it will be interesting to see how far Europe and the US will be prepared to go in insisting that the authorities do more than pay lip service to “good governance” – even if this means puncturing the bubble of wishful thinking at the international level about Burundi’s “forgiving” President, Pierre Nkurunziza.
Click here for more background on this story.
From Human Rights Watch
(Bujumbura, November 5, 2008) – The detention of political activist Alexis Sinduhije and 36 others by Burundian police on November 3, 2008, highlights the growing obstacles to the free exercise of civil and political rights in Burundi, Human Rights Watch said today. Sinduhije, well-known as a former radio journalist, has been trying since February to form an opposition political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy (MSD).
The detentions follow extensive harassment of leaders of several parties opposed to the dominant National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of the Democracy (CNDD-FDD).
“It looks like the ruling party is calling in the power of the state to silence the voices of dissent,” said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa advisor at Human Rights Watch.
Dozens of police armed with Kalashnikovs entered the MSD headquarters shortly after noon on November 3, indicating they had information that an illegal meeting was being held. A search warrant that they contended legitimized their entry was delivered two hours later, carried no docket number, and listed another premises – Sinduhije’s residence – as the place to be searched. It gave the charge against Sinduhije as “threatening state security.” Police officers searched and confiscated several documents, one of which they said contained “subversive material.” They proceeded to arrest everyone on the premises, including political activists, a receptionist, and a driver who was later released.
When a Human Rights Watch researcher present at the time of the search and arrests questioned police officers about irregularities, they responded that they were only “executing orders” given by Regional Police Commissioner David Nikiza, who had delivered the search warrant.
Asked to comment on the irregularities, the police spokesman, Pierre Chanel Ntarabaganyi, responded that the party itself was illegal and that therefore the search and subsequent detentions were justified.
Interior Minister Venant Kamana has refused to register MSD as a political party, claiming that a party cannot include “security” among its goals because security is the exclusive province of the state.
Taken into custody on November 3, Sinduhije and the others were still being held at several city jails as of the evening of November 4, without any charges having been formally entered against them. Police officers interrogated Sinduhije, in the presence of his lawyer, about statements in the confiscated documents criticizing President Peter Nkurunziza’s development policies. They suggested such statements might lead to a charge of “insulting the President.” They also interrogated him about efforts to recruit party members among young people, some of them former combatants in rival forces during 10 years of civil war.
Two other MSD members were arrested last week in Cankuzo province, one for allegedly distributing party cards, the other for having such a card in his possession.
Ntarabaganyi, the police spokesman, told a Human Rights Watch researcher that Sinduhije and the others had been arrested for holding an unauthorized meeting. A ministerial ordinance issued in early October 2008 requires political parties to obtain official authorization for meetings rather than simply informing officials of their intent to meet, as had previously been the case. Burundian law does not require groups other than political parties to obtain authorization for meetings.
Other parties have also faced harassment. Since late September 2008, police have arrested at least 25 members of UPD-Zigamibanga, a party opposed to the CNDD-FDD. Most were arrested in Ngozi province on charges of participating in an unauthorized meeting and released after paying a fine, but two others were detained in Kayanza province on charges of insulting President Peter Nkurunziza after they criticized his education policy during a private conversation.
Most local authorities on the provincial and communal levels are CNDD-FDD members. Even before the new ordinance on meetings was issued, some of them used their authority or that of the police to hinder political meetings or to shut down press conferences by opposition parties including the Democratic Front in Burundi (Frodebu), the Democratic Alliance for Renewal (ADR), and the CNDD (a party different from CNDD-FDD).
Burundi has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Both of these treaties require Burundi to protect fully the rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and to freedom of association. To avoid arbitrary detention, persons detained on suspicion of having committed a criminal offense must be informed of the charge against them as quickly as possible, allowed access to a lawyer and to visitors, and be brought speedily before a judicial authority with power to order their release.
“Using the police to limit dissent and to discourage peaceful political activity violates the rights of Burundians and weakens the rule of law,” said Des Forges. “Officials should promptly release Sinduhije and others arbitrarily detained and permit Burundians the full exercise of their civil and political rights.”
In an email he sent on Saturday, Alexis reported that:
…there is more and more pressure against MSD from the government so that is a sign that we are a movement that is being taken seriously and a threat to the current power structure. In Kirundo and Ngozi they have been trying to arrest our colleagues out in the collines doing good work.
According to today’s message from the MSD, 30 party members, including Alexis himself, have now been arrested following increasing threats and harrassment by the authorities:
Today the police arrived at the permance de MSD with a search warrant. They then took 30+ of the MSD members that were there to the Jabe police station. Alexis remained in office and then was later taken in as well. He has not been allowed to see his lawyer and no reason for his detention. They claim they are under investigation for holding a meeting. Alexis has asked that the MSD members be realeased and only he be detained as he is the sole responsable.
Like Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, the campaigning journalist arrested in September, Alexis Sinduhije has been a huge help in raising the profile of the Titanic Express case over the years, and the book would have been considerably diminished without the input he gave to the campaign.
This latest move by the Burundian authorities to suppress the political opposition makes a further mockery of the PR efforts of international religious groups bent on presenting Burundi’s corrupt and authoritarian Christian evangelical President as the model of the “forgiving” African leader.
More information about Alexis Sinduhije’s work can be found at the MSD’s Facebook page.
04/11 Update from MSD:
Alexis spent his first night in police detention. He had a small cell to himself. He had a mattress but did not sleep. He has not been beaten or tortured.
His friends and supports around the world are organising support. The American, Dutch, British, French, Belgian , German, South African and Norwegian embassies are all informed.
International press has been informed as well. However given the fact that today is election day in the US we do not expect much attention.
He has not been allowed to see his lawyer yet.
I’ve just had a text message from a Burundian friend, telling me that Alexis Sinduhije has been named by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. Alexis is nominated among the list’s “Heroes and Pioneers” by Christiane Amanpower, CNN’s chief international correspondent, and is placed at number 36, just ahead of Aung San Suu Kyi.
It’s great that such a major news outlet is giving this recognition. I know of no other journalist in the world with such a track record of fearlessness in the face of brutality. Whether by speaking out against the abuses of Palipehutu-FNL, highlighting the involvement of the elitist Tutsi government of Pierre Buyoya in the murder of the WHO official Kassi Manlan, or blowing the lid on CNDD-FDD’s attempt in 2006 to jail the entire political opposition on the basis of a bogus conspiracy theory, Alexis has been tireless in speaking up for the truth, and opposing injustice.
Equally, outside of the African media, and the reports produced by Amnesty, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontieres, his work – and the life-and-death issues involved, have been a fairly well kept secret.
Alexis Sinduhije’s account of the aftermath of the 1993 assassination of President Ndadaye is still one of the most moving that I’ve ever read. I quoted from it in the final chapter of Titanic Express, and I thought I might include an extract from it here. The full version can be read by following this link.
For me as a journalist, the cycle began all in one moment on the night of October 21, 1993 at two o’clock in the morning. The army, dominated by a Tutsi majority, attacked the palace of President Melchior Ndadaye. Ndadaye was Burundi’s first Hutu president and had been democratically elected, in sharp contrast with his Tutsi predecessors, who had seized power through military coups. At around two o’clock that morning, mortar shelling and automatic weapons fire woke the entire city of Bujumbura. I got out of bed and began making phone calls.
Nobody knew what was happening. I was working as a reporter for the state radio station, Radio Burundi, and had just begun to work as well as news editor for an independent weekly called La Semaine. I made a few more calls, but still got no reply.
I said to my wife, Diana, that I thought it was either a military coup or an attack by members of Palipehutu, the radical Hutu party that had been banned from the recent elections. When I turned on the radio, there was no sound. I knew then that it was a military coup. With great difficulty, I convinced my wife that I had to go cover the story… As I left my house, I saw that our Hutu neighbors were also awake, and tense with anger. Many looked at me full of hate. I understood that the situation was going to degenerate into violence, but I didn’t know how bad it was going to be…
One of my childhood friends, a Hutu named Gashira, saw me and asked, “You Tutsis, why are you so arrogant? We elected our president and your soldiers killed him.” The question troubled me. It is true that I had brothers in the army, but I wasn’t responsible for their actions. I was surprised and afraid at how ready he was to include me among those who were responsible.
Over the next few days, everywhere emotion took hold of reason. In the eyes of the Hutus, the Tutsis were guilty. I hadn’t really answered Gashira’s question. Although we were of different ethnicity, we both lived in the same neighborhood, one of the poorest in the capital, so I couldn’t see why he spoke of arrogance… I headed toward the palace. It wasn’t easy because the army had blocked all traffic and the Presidential Palace was more than 6 kilometers from Kamenge. I decided to walk.
After more than an hour, I reached a hotel called the Source of the Nile where foreigners stayed and which was adjacent to the Presidential Palace. Troops were everywhere. Thanks to a soldier I knew, I got access into the palace courtyard, where I found a group of soldiers pillaging the house. They had already emptied the presidential refrigerator, and were drinking and celebrating. They asked me if I wanted some champagne. I replied that I never drank before sundown and it wasn’t yet midday. One of them told me that I was missing a unique opportunity to taste champagne. We all burst into laughter. Champagne is the drink of the rich in Burundi, and then only the extremely rich… They had raided the president’s residence to drink it.
The palace roof was riddled with holes, windows were shattered, and the southern walls surrounding the palace were destroyed. “That was from a shell fired from a tank,” the soldiers explained to me, laughing. I asked if there were any dead among the president’s bodyguards, and they burst out laughing again. They replied that the bodyguard was comprised of soldiers, and that they wouldn’t fire upon their colleagues… They confirmed that… the president had died at 10 A.M. in a military camp in Musaga, 6 kilometers south of Bujumbura.
I knew that the president’s death would have grave consequences. I remembered what Gashira had said to me, but now I pretended to support the soldiers’ act. In reality, deep down inside, I hated them because I thought of the thousands of Tutsis who would end up paying for it. I was convinced that the Hutu officials in the countryside would pit the Hutu peasants against the Tutsis. Then soon after, I learned from military sources that the situation was, in fact, turning catastrophic.