An independent newspaper in Burundi has announced on Monday (22 August 2016) the beginning a week of mourning to honour one of its journalists, Jean Bigirimana, who was allegedly abducted a month ago to this day, and has been missing ever since.
Burundi's media was among the first casualties of violence that has rocked the country since end of April. In May 2015, IBTimes UK exclusively reported how local journalists had gone into hiding as they feared they were on an alleged hit-list rolled out by the country's government after the failed coup d'etat.
Bigirimana, a journalist at independent media group Iwacu, was arrested on 22 July after leaving his home in the capital Bujumbura for Bugarama, a town located 25 miles away in the central province of Muramvya.
There are unconfirmed reports that he was arrested there by members of the intelligence services, but three days after Bigirimana vanished, police spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye denied that the security forces had arrested Jean.
On 22 August, Iwacu began a week of mourning to honour the young father of two boys, Don Douglas, eight, and three-year-old John Kiny. On Thursday 25 August, the paper's founder will unveil a commemorative plaque in Iwacu's offices in the capital Bujumbura.
As reported earlier this month by IBTimes UK, Iwacu will also file a complaint against unknown persons (Read more: Iwacu press group to file complaint as journalist Jean Bigirimana still missing after 11 days).
Freedom of press in Burundi
The organisation says: "Since early 2015,persecution of the media has been constant and has taken all forms, from judicial harassment to firing with heavy weapons on privately-owned radio stations in order to force them to close.
"Journalists have been jailed arbitrarily and their media outlets have been banned. Those who criticise President Pierre Nkurunziza's very authoritarian and abusive regime are nowadays likely to be beaten or tortured."
Last month, authorities released Radio Bonesha journalist Egide Ndayisenga after he was held arbitrarily without a warrant for two days. The authorities gave no official explanation for either his arrest or his release.
On 1 August, another Radio Bonesha journalist, Boaz Ntaconayigize, living in exile in Uganda says he was stabbed in the capital, Kampala, and recognised two of his attackers as Burundians.
In October 2015, Burundian journalist Esdras Ndikumana, who worked for RFI, testified against the country's secret services, who he claimed beat him hundred of times with iron bars and clubs.
Meanwhile, several Iwacu journalists − one of which had received direct death threats − have already fled Burundi, including Iwacu director Antoine Kabuhare.
Jean Bigirimana's entourage left with no options
While two bodies were found on 7 August during a search for the missing journalist in the Mubarazi river but they were badly decomposed. When she was brought in to identify her husband at the morgue, Bigirimana's wife was so overwhelmed that she was only able to look at the bodies' hands and feet – and estimated that neither of them was the journalist.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Burundian authorities made no further attempt to identify the victims or establish the cause of death through autopsies or DNA tests. Local officials buried the bodies last week.
"We are trying to find a way to get out of this situation, in which we are entirely stuck. There have no new elements in the investigation. We must grieve and continue our work," Antoine Kaburahe, Iwacu founder and director, told IBTimes UK from Belgium, where he has been in exile since mid-November 2015. "Without proper identification processes we are completely stuck. But we need to continue the fight."
HRW: 'Jean's family has the right to an investigation'
Kaburahe confirmed Iwacu has reached out to TRIAL International, a global NGO fighting impunity for international crimes, and will call on the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
In a statement published on 22 August, Carina Tertsakian, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch's Africa division said:"The cruel nature of such cases means there's no certainty about the victim's fate, and no possibility of closure.
"Is that the end of the story? No. Jean's family has the right to an investigation to determine what happened, and, if a crime took place, to see those responsible prosecuted – as do the families of the two victims, whoever they are. The Burundian authorities should launch thorough, independent investigations, if necessary calling on outside medical or scientific expertise."
The president's communications adviser, Willy Nyamitwe, said that the government was investigating Bigirimana's disappearance, and was deeply concerned.