Burundi releases two journalists after arrested in raid

Burundi police releases British and French journalists arrested in raids after widespread condemnation

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

British journalist Phil Moore has been arrested during a sweep for rebels in flashpoint districts of the Burundian capital Bujumbura on January 29, 2016

Burundian authorities released a British and a French journalist who were arrested during a sweep for rebels in flashpoint districts of the capital.

Both men have won awards for their coverage of the region for years. Their arrest sparked widespread condemnation from rights groups and diplomats.

"They were released, no charges were brought against them," French ambassador Gerrit Van Rossum said, but added they had not been given their equipment and notebooks back.

Deputy Police Spokesman Moise Nkurunziza said that the police caught British photojournalist Phil Moore and French journalist Jean Philippe Remy during raids in Jabe and Nyakabiga neighbourhoods in Bujumbura on Thursday.

"The police arrested five people including a British national who was a journalist," said Nkurunziza, adding that the Frenchman had then come to ask about his British colleague's whereabouts and was also arrested "for interrogation motives."

Both of them had journalist accreditation in the capital Bujumbura, said Nkurunziza .

The French newspaper for which the two journalists were working, demanded the release of both men saying that they were the newspaper’s special correspondents in Burundi.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also called for the immediate release of the journalists as the British Foreign Office said that it was "urgently looking into reports" about the arrest of a British national.

Burundi has been in chaos since April when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza declared plans to run for a third term in office, inciting weeks of street protests by the opposition who said his bid was unconstitutional.

In May, Nkurunziza’s government intercepted an attempted coup but ongoing clashes and gun attacks in the central African nation unnerved a region where memories of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda are still an open wound.

The United States and European nations criticised the government’s restraint on free media such as closing private radio stations.

The government also expelled foreign journalists including Sonia Rolley from a French radio station who was reporting on sexual violence committed by police officers.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement calling for the release of Remy and Moore that the arrests took place "in the context of severe government repression against journalists, with all the main Burundian private radio stations suspended since April/May 2015."

TRTWorld and agencies