WASHINGTON - The U.S. State Department on Tuesday called on Burundi to rescind its decision to suspend the U.S-funded Voice of America and ban the BBC and to allow journalists to operate freely in the run-up to elections in 2020.
"This decision raises serious concerns for the freedom of expression enshrined in Article 31 of Burundi's constitution, as well as for Burundi's human rights obligations," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters.
"We call on the government to rescind its decision and we urge the government of Burundi to allow all journalists to operate in an environment free from intimidation," he added.
Both broadcasters were suspended, initially for six months, in May last year in the run-up to a referendum that opposition politicians and activists said was designed to extend the president's rule for at least a decade.
Burundi will continue to block broadcasts from two international media organizations and expand restrictions on their operations, the government announced Friday.
At a meeting in Bujumbura, the president of the National Council of Communication, Nestor Bankumukunzi, said the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Voice of America are no longer allowed to broadcast, effective immediately.
Hundreds of Burundians have been killed in clashes with security forces and half a million have fled since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in 2015 he would run for a third term in what his opponents saw as a breach of the constitution.
He won reelection.
Last May's referendum overwhelmingly approved changes that could let the president stay in power to 2034.