Burundi lobby groups oppose proposed media law

The Chief Executive Officer of the lobby group Forum for Strengthening the Civil Society, Mr Vital Nshimirimana, signing a petition against Burundi's proposed media law. PHOCAS KANUNI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Burundians are collecting signatures to petition President Pierre Nkurunziza against assenting to a proposed media law seen as draconian.

The petition, initiated by the media professionals and civil society groups, started being signed Tuesday at Maison de la Presse in the capital Bujumbura.

The action follows the passing of the Bill, described as retrogressive, by the Burundian parliament.

Burundi is preparing to hold elections in 2015 and the government has asked those in exile to return home.

Critics of the proposed media regulations fear that they could hinder the work of journalists during the campaigns.

The media professionals have asked the Burundi Head of State to conduct consultations with various stakeholders in order to approve only laws that were in tandem with Constitution of Burundi, the Arusha Peace Agreement and the various Conventions ratified by the country.

The President of the Burundian Journalists Union (UBJ), Mr Alexandre Niyungeko, said their aim was to show the Head of State that the proposed law was unpopular with most Burundians, who had an inalienable right to information.

Public affairs

"We expect the President to react accordingly, given the number of signatures that media professionals will gather," said Mr Niyungeko.

As we all know "a democratically-elected president cannot endorse an unpopular law," he said.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Forum for Strengthening the Civil Society (FORSC) Mr Vital Nshimirimana, said their petition was a strong message to the Head of State.

"This is going against the principles of modern states when a draft Bill is geared to deprive any citizen the use of the press to expose corruption, abuses and violations of human rights, or to speak or participate in the management of public affairs," he said.
According to Mr Nshimirimana, it was dangerous for the government to attack the Fourth Estate.

"There would then be a need to worry about the outcome of the Bills related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), the non-profit organisations (ASBL) and public demonstrations," said Mr Nshimirimana.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said that the proposed law was a clear demonstration of the government's intention to take Burundi backward.

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