The East African Court of Justice has opened hearings into a case filed by Burundi Journalists’ Association challenging a Law regulating the Press in the country.
The Law was adopted on 3 April 2013 by the National Parliament of Burundi and passed by the Senate on 19 April 2013; it was later signed into effect on 4 June 2013 by President Pierre Nkurunziza.
The law, which suggested new press related crimes and exorbitant fines for journalists who violate them, restricts the right to report on anything relating to national security, public order as well as information that threatens the economy or “insults the President”.
Proponents of the law argue that it will professionalize the media in Burundi and ensure that journalists do not incite hatred in the country previously characterized by conflict.
But the Journalists’ Association alleges that the adoption of the Press Law violates the fundamental and operational principles of the Community as protected by Articles 6 (d) and 7 (2) of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community.
The articles mandate partner states of the community to promote and protect principles of good governance, including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, social justice and the maintenance of universally accepted standards of human rights.
Donald Deya, Counsel for the Applicant has submitted to the court that the Press Law restricts the freedom of the Press, the cornerstone of the Community’s principles of democracy, rule of Law, accountability, transparency and good governance.
He added that the Law violates the Press rights to freedom of expression, which in turn is a violation of Burundi’s obligation under the EAC treaty.
Deya further submitted that this Law infringes the freedom of press in multiple ways of intimidation of journalists and media houses engaged in reporting on matters of public interest.
However, Nestror Kayobera, a legal representative for the government of Burundi submitted that the Press Law passed in Burundi is proper and already in enforcement and that there is no violation of the Treaty as alleged by the Applicant.
He further urged that the Constitutional Court in Burundi delivered a judgment in January 2014 nullifying the laws that were unconstitutional and that the parliament of Burundi is in the process of amending them. He contended that he Press Law was not among the laws that were challenged in Court.
The Court will deliver its Judgement on notice.