Burundi journalist Bigirimana disappears without a trace


Jean Bigirimana

It is exactly one month since 37-year-old journalist Jean Bigirimana vanished after leaving his home in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, for Bugarama, a town about 40 kilometers away.

There are unconfirmed reports that he was arrested there by members of the intelligence services, but his whereabouts remain unknown.

As the days passed without news, Jean’s young family, friends, and colleagues at Iwacu newspaper began wondering if he might be dead. The cruel nature of such cases means there’s no certainty about the victim’s fate, and no possibility of closure.

It wasn’t until Jean’s colleagues at Iwacu launched a campaign that the government ended its silence. Three days after he vanished, police spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye flatly denied that the security forces had arrested Jean.

A week later, the president’s communications advisor, Willy Nyamitwe, tweeted that the government was investigating and was deeply concerned. He implied the opposition might be responsible, and said he feared the worst.

Then, on August 5, a dead body was found in the Mubarazi river, in Muramvya – the province he’d been heading to when he vanished.

There was speculation that it might be Jean’s. An intrepid team of Iwacu journalists went to the scene to investigate.

Police, judicial, and intelligence officials joined them, but found nothing.

On August 7, the journalists returned alone, and discovered a dead body in an inaccessible part of the river.

Two days later, a second corpse was found in the river, while media reported that a third was discovered in neighbouring Gitega province.

Human Rights Watch report 

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