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The new measure supplants a 2003 law and among its provisions, mandates journalists, irrespective of their professional experience, possess a university degree, compels reporters to disclose their confidential sources, bars reporting on issues, including public safety, national security, morality and the national economy, and subjects offenders to fines ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 and criminal penalties of up to a maximum life imprisonment.
Free press advocates, including New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists("CPJ") and Human Rights Watch ("HRW"), and France-based Reporters Without Borders ("RWB") all condemned the new law as a major setback to press freedom. Burundi is recovering from the aftermath of a decade-long civil war sparked by the assassination of its first democratically elected president that claimed more than 300,000 lives.
Nkurunziza, an insurgent leader during the civil war, was elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2010, though opposition leaders boycotted the most recent election. According to the BBC News report, the African nation's National Communication Council ("NCC") on May 31 imposed a one-month ban on an online forum of the Iwacu newspaper because the NCC claimed readers critical comments ran afoul of the law by endangering national unity.
"This is a black day for freedom on information in Burundi," proclaimed the RWB Web site.