France concerned by threats against AFP Burundi reporter

Paris (AFP) - France voiced "serious concern" Wednesday over threats made against Agence France-Presse's Burundi correspondent, accused by authorities in Bujumbura of inciting violence in his coverage of the African country's crisis.

The French foreign ministry also called for Bujumbura to ensure the respect of press freedom after the threats against Esdras Ndikumana, journalist for AFP and Radio France Internationale (RFI).

Ndikumana, who was tortured in August 2015 by security forces, was targeted Tuesday by threats on social media after being accused by Bujumbura of "promoting crime and violence" in his coverage.

"France expresses its serious concern following statements by Burundian authorities accusing (Ndikumana) of incitement to violence," said French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal.

"We condemn the threats made against him, notably on social media. It is essential that journalists are able to exercise their profession in total independence and security," he added.

He added that Paris "calls for commitments announced in February by Burundian authorities to resolve the crisis to be fully implemented, including the reopening of all independent media."

On Tuesday AFP's Global News Director Michele Leridon said the agency "deems unacceptable these personal attacks on its correspondent Esdras Ndikumana, which target and imperil a journalist providing irreproachable coverage of news in Burundi under very difficult circumstances."

Ndikumana, who won the French Diplomatic Press Association Prize last year and is considered one of the best specialists on the region, fled Burundi last year but continues to cover the country's crisis from abroad.

RFI said in a statement that it was "outraged and concerned" that its Burundi correspondent had been accused "without any basis".

The station added that the threats faced by Ndikumana were "unacceptable".

Burundi has been plunged into a deep crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April 2015 that he was running for a third term. He was re-elected last July.

Marked by assassinations on both sides, attacks against the police and summary executions, the violence has left more than 500 people dead and forced more than 270,000 Burundians to flee the country, according to the UN.

Burundi's government has silenced independent journalists at home and regularly lashes out at the international media, accusing the press of being part of a "conspiracy" to overthrow it.

Ndikumana, who began working as Bujumbura correspondent for AFP in 2001 and for RFI in 2002, fled the country last August after being arrested by the security services. He was beaten and tortured in detention.

RFI, AFP and Ndikumana have filed a criminal complaint over his mistreatment. So far, the complaint has not led to an investigation.