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Winner of journalism award calls for peace in Burundi

Eloge Willy Kaneza, from Burundi, the winner of the 2016 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, believes the prize offers hope his country "can be healed."

Accepting the award in Washington on Thursday, Kaneza said it encourages journalists in his violence-torn African nation to continue efforts in delivering news.

"This gives courage not only to me, but to my friends, my colleagues, my collective of journalists," Kaneza told the audience at the National Press Club. "We gain courage and the force to continue doing our work accurately and professionally and to continue giving balanced information."

"This is a time of hope that my country can be healed of its wounds," he said.

Burundi has been in chaos since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans in April 2015 to run for a third term, which he went on to win. More than 500 people have since died, and at least 270,000 have fled the country.

The 34-year old Kaneza heads SOS Media Burundi, a collective of journalists formed after the closure of radio stations during the May 2015 coup attempt against Nkurunziza. It uses Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp as tools, with rigorous verification of facts by teams inside and outside the country to help prevent the spread of rumors that can lead to panic.

SOS Media Burundi, set up within 48 hours of the failed coup, publishes via Facebook and Twitter as well as on the music sharing site SoundCloud.

Eloge Willy Kaneza (Getty Images/AFP/S. Loeb)

Eloge Willy Kaneza

Reporters remain anonymous, work in isolation, and cope with the country's poor communications infrastructure by moving from one Wi-Fi hotspot to another. Editorial decisions are discussed via the encrypted mobile application WhatsApp

UN investigators say that in the 12-month period after the crisis began, at least 348 people were victims of extrajudicial killings and 651 incidents of torture were recorded.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists called on Burundi's national intelligence service to release radio journalist Salvador Nahimana, detained since October 2.

jbh/kl (AFP)

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