U.S. Objects To Arrest Of Politician In Burundi
Saturday, November 8, 2008
UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 8 -- The State Department protested the Burundian government's arrest Monday of an aspiring presidential candidate and former journalist who was named one of the world's 100 most influential people this year by Time magazine.
Burundian authorities arrested Alexis Sinduhije at his political party's headquarters in Bujumbura on Monday, along with other party staff members.
"We believe that is unacceptable. We believe he should be released immediately," Russell Brooks, spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs, said Friday. "It remains our hope the government of Burundi will work to advance the cause of political freedom and speech in Burundi and allow citizens to exercise universally recognized rights."
An ethnic Tutsi reporter who adopted a Hutu war orphan, Sinduhije has become a national celebrity in Burundi, a small central African country that has been plagued for more than 15 years by violence between the two ethnic groups.
In 2001 Sinduhije founded Radio Publique Africaine, an independent radio station that promoted reconciliation between the groups.
His reporting has drawn international praise. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists honored Sinduhije in 2004 with its International Press Freedom Award. He has also appeared as a guest on PBS's "Charlie Rose" show.
"We wanted to set an example of how relations between the ethnic groups could be humanized," Sinduhije said in explaining his journalistic mission at the 2004 award ceremony. "We hired former fighters, both Hutu and Tutsi . . . to become fighters for peace and truth."
Joel Simon, the committee's executive director, said Sinduhije's radio station "was a beacon" for those searching for an "alternative to the kind of politics of racial division which had brought Burundi to the brink of genocide."
Simon said Sinduhije has been repeatedly threatened, beaten and jailed for his work as a reporter. Sinduhije left journalism in December 2007 to compete in Burundi's 2010 presidential election. The government has refused to formally register his political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy.
"We don't think this is a press freedom case," Simon said, noting that the charges were nevertheless "trumped up." He said, "We're obviously very concerned about him, and this treatment illustrates the environment in which Burundi's election is taking place."
Burundi's U.N. ambassador, Augustin Nsanze, declined to comment on the arrest.