Besabesa during the interview with this newspaper last week. (Faustin Niyigena)

Besabesa during the interview with this newspaper last week. (Faustin Niyigena)

Besabesa, of Radio Izuba, had by then spent 10 days sharing a cell with suspected criminals of all walks of life in two prisons in Muyinga province, northern Burundi, but the worst case scenario was the physical and emotional torment he claims he endured at the hands of security operatives.

Speaking to The New Times in the backyard of his rented house in Kibungo, Ngoma District, Besabesa appeared well rested and managed a joke or two.

At 3.30pm, his wife and a 3-year-old son were napping inside their modest three-bedroom abode.

Five days after being set free, Besabesa feels much better, save for a little twinge on his left shoulder. The pain and bruising on the shoulder, he says, are a result of a fall from standing height when he was tripped and sent crashing on a concrete floor by a gun-toting interrogator.

His nightmare started when he made a decision to stroll into Burundi on June 8.

After conducting interviews with traders and locals on the Rwandan side of the border regarding cross-border trade between communities in Kirehe District and Burundi?s Giteranyi district, he decided he could not return home without taking a peek into the business environment on the other side of the border.

His temptation was spontaneous. The river border crossing in the area is no official border post, but he observed that people from either country were crossing without much ado.

On the ill-fated day, like most people along the porous border, Besabesa registered with a local boat cooperative jointly operated by Rwandans and Burundians at the unofficial Nyamaswa border crossing, on river Akagera.

He had his national identity card and had been assured he would be in no trouble after registering with the cooperative.

Besabesa says he ?learnt a lesson,? albeit the hard way. He should have known better entering a country in turmoil through an unofficial border crossing, he says.

Despite the calm in the area, political turmoil in the neighbouring country was bulging.

Today, over 38,000 Burundian refugees have fled to Rwanda over the last two months in the wake of political unrest sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza?s bid for a third term in office.

A few hours inside Burundi, people Besabesa believes were Burundian ruling party?s youth wing, Imbonerakure, arrested him together with his taxi-moto transporter. Two police officers arrived soon after, handcuffed both of them, and led them to the nearest prison.

At the time, around 6pm, he recalls, their captors indicated ? through calls to their superiors ? that they had caught two ?Rwandan spies.? They spent the night in jail.

The next day was no better as they were taken to Muyinga where they would be further interrogated, stripped naked and flogged.

?Three people took turns caning me; planks on the buttocks, under the feet and on the back portions of the lower leg. My taxi-moto companion received similiar torture,? Besabesa said.

?They accused me of crossing into Burundi to recruit youths who would come to Rwanda to join a rebel movement against the Burundi government.

?They accused us of espionage, and asked about rebel training camps in Rwanda. They asked how many people I had come to recruit. On Wednesday, when I was brought to court, a prosecutor had more accusations.?

Gladly, he says, the court had found all charges against him lacking in evidence.

After 10 days in confinement, at around 1pm on Thursday last week, Burundian officials escorted him to the Nemba border crossing and handed him over to Rwandan officials.

He thanked the media fraternity in both countries for their solidarity during detention and the role they played in his release. Besabesa added: ?I also thank our government for having followed up on the matter closely. It was proof enough that a Rwandan citizen cannot just disappear and be forgotten.?

Before he was freed, a Rwandan embassy official in Bujumbura visited the journalist and reassured him.

The Rwanda Media Commission, a media self-regulatory body, and the association of Burundian journalists, had also visited and showed him support.

James Karuhanga, The New Times


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