Hassan Ruvakuki: Burundi reporter life sentence reduced

Burundian journalist Hassan Ruvakuki in Gitega on 18 October 2012 Hassan Ruvakuki says he was arrested for simply doing his job

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A Burundian appeal court has reduced the life sentence of journalist Hassan Ruvakuki to three years after scrapping his conviction on a terrorism charge.

The court found the reporter guilty of working with a criminal group, not a terrorist movement.

Ruvakuki has always maintained his innocence, saying he was arrested simply for looking into reports that a new rebel group had emerged in Burundi.

The country is recovering from a civil war which officially ended in 2005.

Some 300,000 people are said to have been killed in the 12-year conflict between the minority Tutsi-dominated army and ethnic Hutu rebels.

Ruvakuki, who worked for local radio station Bonesha FM and French state broadcaster Radio France Internationale, was given a life jail-term in June 2012 by the High Court.

It ruled that he took part in an armed attack in 2011 on a village in eastern Cankuzo province near the Tanzanian border.

Fourteen gunmen who participated in the attack were killed.

The sentence sent shockwaves across the country, with rights groups claiming that President Pierre Nkurunziza's government was taking a heavy-handed approach in dealing with dissenting voices.

Mr Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader who won elections when the civil war ended, defended the sentence at the time.

"Before someone is a journalist he is a Burundian," he said.

The BBC's Judith Basutama in the capital, Burundi, says Ruvakuki's lawyers wanted the Appeal Court to acquit him - and not just convict him of lesser charges.

They now plan to take the case to the Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal, she says.

The global media watchdog body, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said Rukavuki was arrested after a November 2011 trip to a rebel-held area along Burundi's border with Tanzania.

He recorded an audio statement from Pierre Claver Kabirigi, a former police officer who claimed to be the leader of a new rebel group, the Front for the Restoration of Democracy.

The CPJ said Ruvakuki was doing his job as a journalist and should be freed.

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