The appeal hearing for a journalist in Burundi, jailed for life on terrorism charges, resumed on Wednesday after numerous delays in court proceedings.
Hassan Ruvakuki was originally sentenced to life imprisonment in June of this year after being accused of planning and then documenting a rebel attack which left over 50 people dead.
The journalist, who works for French radio station, Radio France Internationale and local station, Bonesha FM was charged along with 22 others for involvement in an attack on a bar near the border with neighbouring Tanzania. Ruvakuki and 13 others were handed life sentences, while nine others were found guilty of complicity and handed 15-year sentences.
Ruvakuki’s hearing, originally scheduled for September 28, began on October 8 but has been adjourned repeatedly. However, the judge presiding over the case, Fulgence Ruberintwari said on Wednesday that the case will now be heard for three consecutive days with conclusions to be made on Friday.
The testimonies of ten alleged “fighters” in the rebellion were heard yesterday, all of whom maintained their innocence and protested that they signed statements only after suffering torture.
The court then went on to hear from the nine defendants accused of complicity and will hear from Ruvakuki as part of a third group either today or tomorrow.
In an earlier hearing, Ruvakuki’s lawyer, Onésime Kabayabaya, spoke about the urgency of the situation: "Hassan Ruvakuki has been languishing in prison for nearly a year for nothing and wants this appeal to be heard rapidly so that he can demonstrate his innocence… he would like to be cleared quickly in order to be reunited with his family and go back to work."
Press and rights groups have condemned the life sentence handed down to Ruvakuki, and accused the government in Burundi of using a heavy handed approach towards journalists.
Organisations have urged the authorities to overturn their initial decision, arguing that the journalist was simply doing his job and pointing to a lack of evidence of any involvement in the plot.
Committee to Protect Journalists East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes said: "It's the duty of any reporter to interview both sides in a conflict. That is what Hassan Ruvakuki tried to do. We call on the court of appeals to overturn the conviction."
Reporters Without Borders has condemned the delays in court proceedings, saying: “If the Burundian authorities are counting on these repeated delays to discourage Ruvakuki, his lawyers and his supporters, they are mistaken. We will pursue this battle to the end in order to prove his innocence and obtain his release."
Source: DCMF, AFP