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Burundi court cuts journalist prison term over gun attack

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* Journalists in Burundi targeted by prosecutors

* Reporter convicted after interview with rebel leader

* Lawyer says to appeal against new prison term

By Patrick Nduwimana

GITEGA, Burundi, Jan 8 (Reuters) - A court in Burundi
reduced a life sentence handed last year to a reporter accused
of complicity in a 2011 gun attack after finding him guilty of a
less serious offence, an appeal judge said on Tuesday.

Deadly clashes last year between security forces and former
militia fighters rocked the landlocked central African country,
which had enjoyed relative peace since rebels laid down arms and
joined the government in 2009 after two decades of civil war.

Journalists have been targeted in a wave of detentions.
Human Rights Watch said last year the government was trying to
restrict efforts by independent media and civil society to
denounce violence blamed on the state.

Hassan Ruvakuki, a reporter for Radio France Internationale
(RFI) and a Burundi independent radio station, was arrested in
November 2011, accused of involvement in the attack by militants
on the eastern town of Cankuzo that was launched from
neighbouring Tanzania.

The prosecution had said Ruvakuki was complicit in the
attack because he had travelled to Tanzania earlier that month
and interviewed the rebel group's proclaimed leader. He was
convicted by a court of first instance in June last year.

"The court redefines the charges against Ruvakuki and says
he is guilty of participation in an association formed for the
purpose of attacking people and property," said the head of the
appeal court in the central province of Gitega, Fulgence
Ruberintwari.

"Consequently, the court sentences him to three years in
prison," he told a crowd that included journalists and members
of the public who had come to hear the verdict.

Alexandre Niyungeko, chairman of the Burundi journalists'
union, said he was shocked by the new verdict. One of Ruvakuki's
lawyers said he would appeal to the Supreme Court.

"I am not happy with the judgement even if the penalty was
reduced," said the lawyer, Fabien Segatwa. "It is an unjust
conviction."

Critics accuse President Pierre Nkurunziza's ruling party of
monopolising power, appointing only members of one ethnic
community, the Hutu, into positions of power and repressing the
opposition, which boycotted elections in 2010.

The appeal court reduced the prison terms of 13 other
defendants accused of being rebel fighters, who were convicted
in the same case. Ten of them had their sentences cut to three
years and three were given 20 years. Nine others had their life
terms upheld.

(Editing by George Obulutsa and Tom Pfeiffer)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130108/burundi-court-cuts-journalist-prison-term-over-gun-attack