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Life sentence for Burundian reporter

BUJUMBURA: A Burundian court has sentenced a journalist to life imprisonment for “participating in a terrorist attack”, his lawyer said, in a growing clampdown on media in the East African nation.

Hassan Ruvakuki was arrested in November, accused of involvement in a deadly gun attack by militants on the eastern town of Cankuzo that was launched from neighbouring Tanzania.

The prosecution alleged he was complicit in the attack because he had travelled to Tanzania earlier that month and interviewed the rebel group’s proclaimed leader, a former Burundian police officer.

“This is a shocking and shameful verdict. He did his job of investigation to inform Burundi’s public on what was going on in the country,” said lawyer Onesime Kabayabaya in reaction to the sentence handed down late on Wednesday.

Thirteen alleged rebel fighters were also sentenced to life in prison by the Burundi court for their role in the attack.

Journalists in Burundi have been targeted in a wave of detentions in the past two years. Human Rights Watch said last month the government tried to restrict independent media and civil society efforts to denounce ongoing violence in Burundi.

Regional journalists’ unions condemned the sentence handed down to Ruvakuki, who worked for Radio France International’s Swahili-language service and local broadcaster Bonesha FM.

“The arrest and the whole trial were politically motivated and the verdict is a great affront to press freedom,” Omar Osman, secretary-general of the Eastern African Journalists Association, said late on Wednesday. – Reuters

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