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Burundi Commissioner: Free Press Should Be Barred From 2020 Poll

A senior Burundi election official has called for independent media to be barred from covering the East African country's presidential polls in 2020, local press and witnesses reported Wednesday.

Jean Anastase Hicuburund, from the National Independent Electoral Commission, urged that official steps be taken to "block the way for those media who do not want to follow the path taken by the government."

"They have done everything to bring the country to its knees," he told an audience of journalists and civil society groups in Bujumbura.

The comments were reported by SOS Media Burundi and confirmed to AFP by two sources present. SOS Media Burundi is one of the few independent outlets left in a country ranked one of the worst in the world for press freedom.

Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his candidacy for a third term in April 2015. He was re-elected in July of that year.

Violence claimed at least 1,200 lives and displaced more than 400,000 between April 2015 and May 2017, according to estimates by the International Criminal Court which has opened an investigation.

Hicuburund, the commissioner in charge of electoral operations and litigation, said independent media was to blame for the 2015 violence that "paralysed the country."

"You witnessed the events of 2015. It was mainly the independent media that had received from abroad the mission to create chaos," he said.

"The Burundian people must disassociate themselves from the media that do not support government action."

Burundi's independent media were among the most flourishing in the region until the 2015 crisis, when several radio and television stations were destroyed and about 100 journalists were forced into exile.

In March, the BBC was banned from operating in Burundi. The country's media authority had already suspended FM radio broadcasts of the BBC and Voice of America the year before.

Burundi ranks 159th out of 180 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.