Burundi court cuts journalist jail term

2013-01-08 13:36

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Gitega - A Burundian appeal court on Tuesday cut the life sentence of journalist Hassan Ruvakuki to three years, judges said, reducing the charges from terrorism to membership of a gang.

Appeal court judge Fulgence Ruberintwari said the reporter was guilty of "participating in an association formed for the purpose of attacking people and property" and would serve three years in jail.

Ruvakuki, who worked for French radio station RFI's Swahili service and local broadcaster Bonesha FM, was handed a life sentence last June, a ruling condemned by press rights groups.

He was initially convicted of planning an attack by an armed group on the eastern Cankuzo province of neighbouring Tanzania that left dozens dead and spreading news of it afterwards.

Ruvakuki, who was not present in court, has always protested his innocence.

Ruvakuki, whose trial has been closely followed by Bujumbura-based Western diplomats, acknowledged that he travelled to Tanzania to cover the birth of a new rebellion but said he was merely doing his job as a journalist.

His defence lawyers at the appeal hearing in Gitega, central Burundi, worked to discredit the prosecution's evidence, repeatedly denouncing what they said were procedural violations that have plagued the case.

Since general elections in 2010 that were boycotted by the opposition, Burundi has been rocked by violence that has led observers to fear that the central African country could be sliding back into conflict.

Burundi's civil claimed nearly 300 000 lives from 1993 to 2006.

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