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Human Rights Watch Researcher Expelled from Burundi

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Michael Onyiego

A researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch has been asked by the government of Burundi to leave the country for allegedly supporting opposition groups. Human Rights Watch says the move does not serve the interests of the Burundian people.

Burundian immigration officials have canceled the work permit of Human Rights Watch researcher Neela Ghoshal. Ghoshal, a citizen of the United States, has been working in Burundi for the past three years.

In a letter sent Tuesday, the Burundian minister of foreign affairs revoked her status as a Human Rights Watch representative in the country and asked her to leave Burundi by 6 p.m. on June 5th.

According to Human Rights Watch, the decision was based on a recent report written by Ghoshal which exposes rising political violence in the country as it prepares for elections starting this week.

The 47-page report, entitled "We'll Tie You Up and Shoot You," documents political assassinations and beatings carried out primarily by the ruling National Council for Defense of Democracy and its main opposition, the National Liberation Forces party.

The government has accused Ghoshal of harming the interests of Burundi and exhibiting a bias towards opposition groups. In the letter, the foreign minister said Ghoshal has ignored government efforts to address the issues confronting the elections.

Human Rights Watch has defended Ghoshal's work, explaining it has no political preference. A spokesperson for the organization, Reed Brody, says Ghoshal's expulsion will only hurt Burundians.

"Obviously it raises questions of international law, in terms of the right of the people of Burundi to have free and fair elections in which there are international monitors and observers. It does raise questions about freedom of expression and freedom of opinion. We are just hoping the government of Burundi will reconsider," Brody said. "It does not serve the interests of the people of Burundi to kick out impartial researchers who are seeking to promote and protect the rights of the Burundian people."

According to Brody, the Burundian government has a tendency to expel members of the international community. In December, the head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi was thrown out after a report was published alleging government support of anti-government rebels in Rwanda. Similar circumstances forced two other U.N. chiefs to leave in 2006.

Burundi will begin a summer-long series of elections starting with municipal polls on Friday, May 21. In addition to Human Rights Watch, organizations such as London-based Amnesty International and the Brussels-based International Crisis Group have expressed concerns about political repression and violence before the upcoming poll.

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