Burundi temporarily bans VOA and BBC for breach of professional ethics ahead of controversial referendum vote

Burundi has placed a six-month broadcast ban on two international networks, the Voice of America (VOA) and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), for breach of professional ethics.

The reason for the suspension, the government stated is “falling short of laws governing the press” and “breaching professional ethics”.

This ban comes ahead of Burundi’s controversial May 17 referendum that is aimed at extending presidential term limits. The referendum vote, if successful, will allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to extend his term in office.

The referendum would extend the presidential term from five years to seven year, allowing Nkurunziza to run again in 2020. It would limit the president to two consecutive seven-year terms, without accounting for the president’s previous terms in office, potentially extending his rule to 2034.

In 2005, Nkurunziza came into power after a peace deal that ended a 10-year civil war between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels, in which 300,000 people were killed. By 2015, he ran for a third term. Though his opponents said him running for office violated the terms of the peace deal, he still contested and won and these sparked clashes that resulted in hundreds of deaths in the East African country.

Ahead of the May 17 vote, the United States, human rights groups and the Catholic Church have denounced violence while opposition groups are said to be living in fear as they campaign for a boycott of the process.

“We denounce the numerous instances of violence, intimidation, and harassment committed against perceived opponents of the referendum,” the groups statement said. Adding that, “we call on the government to respect Burundi’s international legal obligations regarding the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.”

Burundi is not the only country to suspend operations of international broadcast stations. Democratic Republic of Congo has also banned Radio France International (RFI) radio and U.N.-backed Radio Okapi.