A Burundian journalist who was facing life behind bars was released yesterday although the circumstances of his release were not immediately clear, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced last night.
Hassan Ruvakuki, whose only ‘crime’ was to have followed a rebel group to Tanzania to report on its activities, was the Swahili correspondent for Radio France Internationale (RFI) and local Bonesha fm radio station.
He has been in jail for 16 months.
He was freed from Muramvya Prison in central Burundi to attend a medical checkup, CPJ quoted local news reports as saying.
However, it remains unclear whether the release was permanent, the New York-based media watchdog said.
“While we welcome news of Hassan’s release, we call on authorities to clear his name by vacating his unjust conviction and prison sentence,” CPJ east Africa consultant Tom Rhodes said in a statement.
Ruvakuki’s prison sentence drew outcry and condemnation both at home and abroad.
Conflict and corruption-hit Burundi was ranked 132nd in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index by Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF).
RSF has described east Africa as a region of censorship and crackdowns, and called it a ‘graveyard’ for journalists after dozens of journalists have been senselessly killed in the unstable region.
The region also houses some of the dangerous media predators on earth, including the likes of Rwanda President Paul Kagame, Eritrea Issaias’ Afeworki and Djibouti’s Ismael Omar Guelleh.
Ruvakuki’s colleagues who held several demonstrations calling for his release will finally be relieved that their colleague is back where he belongs: in the newsrooms, and far away from the criminals’ den.