UN slams jailing of radio boss over nuns’ murder

The United Nations on Friday harshly criticised Burundi's arrest of a radio station boss who has been accused of complicity in the murder of three Italian nuns.

UN slams jailing of radio boss over nuns' murder
Photos (from left to right) show Olga Raschietti, Bernadette Boggia and Lucia Pulici. Photo: Missionaire di Maria/AFP

"No one should be prosecuted for legitimately exercising his fundamental right to freedom of expression and opinion," said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN human rights office.

Bob Rugurika, the director of the popular, independent African Public Radio (RPA), was arrested in mid-January after broadcasting the purported confession of a man claiming he was one of the nuns' killers.

For broadcasting the alleged confession and refusing to give up the self-proclaimed killer, Rugurika was charged with complicity in the murders, among other things, and could face up to 20 years in prison.

A Burundi court earlier this week denied him bail.

Shamdasani warned that the case raised "serious concerns about the exercise of the freedom of expression in Burundi, particularly ahead of the upcoming elections."

"We have previously urged the government to review the media law, which requires journalists to reveal their sources when they report on issues such as state security and public order," she told reporters in Geneva.

"The legislation leads all too easily to infringements of freedom of expression," she cautioned, adding that the UN rights agency would closely monitor his case.

Burundi, a small landlocked nation in central Africa's Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war. The political climate remains fractious ahead of local, parliamentary and presidential polls in May and June.

Opposition politicians and critics say the government is doing all it can to sideline political challengers ahead of the elections, including arrests, harassment and a clampdown on free speech.

The three Roman Catholic nuns – Olga Raschietti, 83, Lucia Pulici, 75, and 79-year-old Bernadetta Boggian – were murdered at a convent north of Bujumbura in September. The purported confession contradicted a police account of the crime and implicated a top official.

Washington also took issue with Rugurika's detention this week, saying the case raised "troubling questions about freedom of expression and the independence of the Burundian judiciary."

Some 150 Burundian journalists and civil rights activists gathered outside the courthouse in Bujumbura on Tuesday to demand his release.


New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

Authorities in New York announced on Thursday the return to Italy of 14 more antiquities, worth an estimated €2.3 million, as part of an investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been conducting an extensive investigation over the past two years into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries — including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony on Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts – some 2,600 years old – were officially returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

READ ALSO: Italian ‘art squad’ police recover 800 illegally-excavated archaeological finds

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Italy as well as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Greece, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.

Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and amarble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.