The appeal case of a journalist in Burundi who was sentenced for life for participation in terrorist activities, will take place on September 28, according to the country’s supreme court.
Hassan Ruvakuki, a reporter for local radio station, Bonesha FM and French government funded broadcaster, Radio France Internationalie was convicted, along with 22 other suspects, of planning “terrorist attacks.”
The verdict came about because of the journalist’s trip to a rebel-held area of Burundi in November 2011, where he interviewed a rebel leader. After returning from the area, Ruvakuki was arrested, his home searched and he was accused of having links to the rebel group.
Ruvakuki was charged with being involved in a terrorist attack which left at least 50 people dead as gunmen attacked a bar near the border with Tanzania.
The original sentence was handed down in June of this year, and was met with shock by a number of organisations who stongly criticised the decision.
The Burundian Journalists’ Union said that the sentence “made a mockery of the rights of the press,”
"The Gitega appeals court has registered the appeal by Hassan Ruvakuki, and the hearing has been fixed there for September 28," Elie Ntungwanayo told AFP.
When Ruvakuki was originally sentenced, Burundi’s President Nkurunziza backed the decision, saying that the journalist was being tried because of his actions as a citizen, not a member of the media.
This reaction was the latest in a series of incidents which have prompted concerns from human rights and media watchdog groups from around the world, who have been monitoring the government’s heavy-handed means of dealing with critics and opposition voices.
Journalists have been physically assaulted throughout the country, and some observers have described the authorities as a “militia government” in terms of their handing of the press and critical voices in general.
Reporters Without Borders have consistently called for Ruvakuki’s case to be reviewed, and last month, ahead of celebrations for the country’s 50th year of independence, RSF said: “All devotees of freedom and justice know there is nothing to celebrate when they look at what is happening in Burundi today.”
“Hassan Ruvakuki has been sentenced to an unbelievably harsh penalty, yet he did not benefit from a fair trial and there is no proof that he was guilty. He was just doing his job,” the organisation added.