Burundi’s government was Saturday accused of launching a campaign of repression against independent media, the day after loyalist troops defeated an attempted coup against the central African nation’s president.
Rights activist Innocent Muhozi said journalists were being subjected to threats of arrest and even death, and he said the head of the prominent independent radio station RPA had been forced to flee the country.
On Friday President Pierre Nkurunziza thanked loyalist forces for crushing the coup attempt and warned demonstrators to end weeks of protests against his controversial bid to seek a third consecutive term in office.
After two days of heavy battles, the attempt by high-ranking security and defence figures to seize power ended in failure as its leaders admitted defeat and were arrested or forced to go on the run.
Coup leader Godefroid Niyombare, a general and former intelligence chief, was said to still be on the run.
The capital itself was largely calm on Saturday, correspondents said.
“They want to break the journalists’ morale. There is harassment, phone calls, threats, blacklists. Some have gone into exile, others are in hiding,” said Muhozi, head of the Burundian Press Observatory.
He said African Public Radio (RPA) boss Bob Rugurika had been threatened and had fled abroad.
Burundi’s main independent radio stations were attacked and put off the air by loyalist troops during the coup attempt, which began on Wednesday and ended on Friday morning after a failed attempt by the plotters to seize Burundi’s state broadcaster.
Authorities said 12 rebel soldiers died in the fighting, although there was no independent confirmation of casualty figures.
Niyombare, the general behind the coup, had used an independent radio station to announce his bid to overthrow Nkurunziza, and independent media have been accused of stirring weeks of protests against the president that have left around 25 people dead.
Opposition and rights groups insist that it is unconstitutional for Nkurunziza, who has been in office since 2005, to run for more than two terms. He has also been accused of failing to lift the fortunes of the impoverished country and intimidating opponents.
The president, however, argues his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people. A former rebel leader from the Hutu majority, Nkurunziza is also a born-again Christian who believes he ascended to the presidency with divine backing.
In a speech broadcast by state media, Nkurunziza thanked the security forces for defeating the uprising.
“On the occasion of this memorable day, we want to thank from my heart the forces of defence and security for the efficiency and speed that they demonstrated to stop the disturbing plan to destroy the democratically elected institutions,” Nkurunziza said in an official speech in Kirundi.
Nkurunziza also said there was a link between coup leaders and protesters campaigning in what he termed “uprisings” against his third term bid.
“It is obvious that the current upheavals are related to the group that wanted to overthrow government institutions,” he said, demanding “the uprising stops immediately.”
Demonstrations were banned from the start by the government, which called the protesters “terrorists”.
The coup attempt had raised fears of a return to widespread violence in the country, which is still recovering from a 13-year civil war that ended in 2006 and left hundreds of thousands dead.
More than 100,000 Burundians have fled the violence to neighbouring nations, the United Nations said Friday.