Police try to enter the building of the radio station Radio publique africaine in Bujumbura on April 26, 2015. The Burundian government shut down its broadcasts across the country on April 27.

(Nairobi) – The Burundian government is cracking down on activists, journalists, and demonstrators following protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term. 

The announcement on April 25, 2015, by the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) that Nkurunziza would be its candidate in June elections triggered widespread demonstrations in the capital, Bujumbura, on April 26 and 27.

“The Burundian authorities should respect people’s right to demonstrate peacefully,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Police in Burundi should be given strict instructions to avoid excessive force.”

A heavy police presence prevented many demonstrators from reaching the city center, but there were numerous clashes between police and demonstrators in the suburbs, with police using teargas, water cannons, and live ammunition, Burundian and international journalists and human rights activists told Human Rights Watch. Some demonstrators threw stones at the police and burned tires in the streets. Burundian journalists and other local sources reported that at least two people were shot dead and others injured during the clashes.

On April 27, police arrested a leading human rights defender, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who had gone to give an interview at Media House (la Maison de la Presse), a gathering place for local media. The police kicked and roughed up Mbonimpa, aged 66, journalists at the scene told Human Rights Watch. Mbonimpa, president of the human rights group APRODH, has been an outspoken critic of abuses by the government, including during recent events.

“The Burundian authorities should immediately release Mbonimpa and let him carry out his human rights work,” Bekele said.

On April 26, the government banned live reporting from the sites of the demonstrations by three popular radio stations – Radio publique africaine (RPA), Radio Isanganiro, and Radio Bonesha FM, suspended their broadcasts outside the capital, and cut off their telephone land lines, journalists told Human Rights Watch. On the afternoon of April 27, the government completely shut down RPA’s broadcasts, including in the capital, and shut down la Maison de la Presse.

“These radio stations in Burundi are doing their job by covering the news,” Bekele said. “Government restrictions on communications not only violate basic media freedom but deprive many Burundians of the right to information about events that affect them directly.”