In 2016, a Burundian journalist went missing in a mysterious manner that has eluded the media fraternity in a politically volatile and isolated East African country known for brutality against Press.
On Wednesday, July 22, the Iwacu Press Group organized a ceremony in memory of journalist Jean Bigirimana who disappeared 4 years ago on the same date, in circumstances that have not yet been clarified.
Around 12:45 pm Iwacu reporters gathered in the courtyard of the Iwacu Press Group. They form two hedges of honor in front of the giant portrait of Jean Bigirimana, reporters from other Burundian media who came to cover this ceremony spontaneously join their colleagues.
The government of President Maj. Gen. Evariste Ndayishimiye has remained non-committal to this matter. Four years ago the current president was in charge internal security and an advisor to the late President Pierre Nkurunziza on military issues.
Iwacu media house is considered very critical and holds to account the government in Burundi and this has not been an easy trail for the organization. It has equally attracted scrutiny from state agents angered by the style of reporting.
“This gathering is a duty of memory for Jean Bigirimana, colleague, friend and father of the family,” said the director of the Journal Iwacu, Léandre Sikuyavuga.
Two young journalists from the editorial staff carried a crown to the foot of the giant portrait of Jean Bigirimana hanging on a wall of the newspaper’s printing press.
“We have to admit it, we do a difficult job but informing is a noble profession, a profession recognized by the Burundian Constitution. The Iwacu newspaper is recognized by law and respects the law on the press, ethics and professional conduct,” Sikuyavuga explained.
“Burundians need a free press, which works without injunction. Jean paid the dear price,”said Léandre Sikuyavuga.
Despite the disappearance of Bigirimana, there is another group of four journalists that were arrested and their whereabouts are unknown. They were intercepted by security agents on their way to cover rebel attacks at the border with DRC.
“Beyond Jean Bigirimana, we have a special thought for our four journalists imprisoned since October 22, 2109. Christine and Agnès were very close to Jean,” said Sikuyavuga.
“We call on the Burundian government to release them,” he said, adding, “They now total 9 months of detention in Bubanza, unjust imprisonment.”
Antoine Kaburahe, the founder of the Iwacu Press Group, now in exile, said “he slept badly”. He followed the ceremonies via WhatsApp and Twitter.
“To see young people carrying the wreath of flowers to Jean is very symbolic. It’s like saying Jean, you didn’t die for nothing, we are here to take over, ”he points out.
How did Bigirimana Disappear?
Unconfirmed reports indicate that intelligence officials arrested Bigirimana on July 22, 2016, in Bugarama, 40 kilometers away from the capital, Bujumbura.
In early August of 2016, two decomposed bodies were found in the Mubarazi river in Muramvya province, not far from Bugarama. One of the bodies was decapitated and the other weighed down by stones.
According to a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into crimes committed in Burundi since 2015, “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” continue.
The commission also noted that several missing people have not been found and that unidentified bodies continue to be discovered in various parts of the country, giving “reason to fear” that intelligence services and the police continue to arrest people, who they later kill before discarding the bodies.