MEDIA watchdog Reporters Without Borders lashed out Monday at the “despicable assault” against an AFP reporter in Burundi, who says he was detained and badly beaten after a top general was assassinated.
Esdras Ndikumana, a prominent Burundian journalist who works for Agence France-Presse and Radio France Internationale (RFI), said he was held for around two hours, during which he said he was subjected to severe beatings on his back, legs and the soles of his feet.
He was later released and hospitalised, with the injuries also including a suspected broken finger.
Ndikumana said he was taking pictures on Sunday at the scene of the general’s assassination in the capital Bujumbura when he was arrested by members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and taken to their offices.
The secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, said he was “shocked and angry” over the attack.
This “despicable assault” is “tantamount to torture,” added Deloire, who called on the authorities to “immediately open an enquiry to identify and punish those who carried out this barbaric act.”
AFP’s global news director Michele Leridon said in a statement Sunday she was “very shocked” by the attack.
“We will seek explanations from the authorities in Burundi and an assurance that such an incident will not happen again,” she said.
“Our correspondent must be able to continue to carry out his work in complete safety.”
RFI said Ndikumana’s life was not in danger but that he was “in shock and has severe bruising”.
The radio station has already lodged an official complaint with the Burundi authorities.
It said it would send a joint letter with AFP to seek explanations and assurances that there would be no repeat.
The Eastern Africa Journalists Association also reacted strongly, seeing in the incident a “clear” attempt to “intimidate and terrify” the reporter.
“Media are clearly being targeted. It has to stop,” said Muheldin Ahmed Idris Titawi, the head of the association.
The political crisis in Burundi has seen independent media outlets shut down and many journalists have fled the country or have gone into hiding because of threats and attacks.
The assassination of General Adolphe Nshimirimana came just over a week after President Pierre Nkurunziza was declared the outright winner of controversial elections, securing a third straight term despite opposition protests and international condemnation.
He was a close aide to Nkurunziza and was widely seen as the central African nation’s de facto internal security chief and even considered the regime’s number-two.
Meanwhile Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, a well-known human rights defender in restive Burundi, was seriously injured in a shooting in the capital on Monday, civil society activists told AFP.
“He has been very badly wounded, he is in hospital,” said Balthazar Fengure of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees, adding that Mbonimpa had publicly opposed President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term in office..