BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - A Burundi prosecutor has requested a life sentence for a journalist charged with treason for questioning the ability of Burundi’s security forces to respond to terrorist attacks by al Qaeda-linked Somali rebels.
Jean Claude Kavumbagu, who runs the online news agency Net Press, was arrested last July for saying Burundi would not be able to cope if attacked by Somalia’s al Shabaab rebels.
Burundi, along with Uganda, has troops in an African Union peacekeeping force protecting the Somali government from rebels, and fighters have threatened to attack both countries. Somali rebels claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb that killed 79 people in Uganda’s capital Kampala last July.
Burundi authorities said Kavumbagu’s remarks amounted to treason because Burundi troops were engaged in war with al Shabaab rebels in Somalia.
Kavumbagu’s lawyers said the charges were baseless and demanded his immediate release.
“To our knowledge, Burundi is not in war with any country or any rebel group. Kavumbagu didn’t commit any offense, he just gave his opinion,” his lawyer Gabriel Sinarinzi told reporters.
On Tuesday, the New York-based pressure group the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a letter calling on Burundi’s justice minister to intervene and drop the charges faced by Kavumbagu.
Burundian and Ugandan troops in Somalia have played an important role in protecting Somalia’s government from al Shabaab fighters, who want to topple the Western-backed government and impose a strict form of Islamic law.