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Burundi arrests, detains two foreign journalists

January 29, 2016

Burundi police said Friday they were holding two respected foreign journalists as they reported on gunmen opposed to the government in the volatile nation.

French journalist Jean-Philippe Remy, Africa bureau chief for French daily Le Monde, and British photojournalist Phil Moore, were arrested on Thursday afternoon, they said.

Both have covered the region for years winning several awards for their work.

“The two foreigners were arrested in the company of armed criminals,” the security ministry said in a statement.

Presidential press chief Willy Nyamitwe said the pair were among 17 people arrested by police.

Police said a mortar, a Kalashnikov rifle and pistols were also seized in the raid in Nyakabiga, a Bujumbura suburb and anti-government protest hotspot.

“They have not been charged, we are still at the investigation stage,” said police deputy spokesman Moise Nkurunziza.

“If there is no evidence against them, they will be released, of course,” he added.

– ‘Consummate professionals’ –

In a statement Le Monde called for the “immediate release” of the two journalists.

“They both have valid visas and were merely exercising their professional duties by meeting all concerned parties involved in the current tensions in Burundi,” Le Monde said.

“The Burundian authorities should immediately release French journalist Jean-Philippe Remy and British photographer Phil Moore, unless there is a credible legal basis for detaining them, and guarantee their safety,” said Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch.

“They should ensure that they are not ill-treated in detention and that diplomatic representatives and lawyers can visit them without delay,” Tertsakian added.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa (FCAEA) said it was “extremely concerned about the arrests of our esteemed and dear colleagues.”

Moore has frequently worked for AFP and other international publications, winning widespread recognition for his photographs of conflicts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as well as Libya, Somalia and Syria.

Remy has won several awards, including the 2013 Prix Bayeux-Calvados for his coverage of the war in Syria.

“We know them to be consummate professionals and are disturbed by news of their detention while they were doing their jobs in Bujumbura,” the FCAEA said in a statement early Friday.

– Burundi to dominate AU talks –

Burundi has been in crisis since April when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a controversial third term, sparking street protests, a failed coup, regular killings and a nascent rebellion.

The government has cracked down on the press, forcing independent media to shut down and driving some journalists into exile.

The crisis in Burundi will be top of the agenda this weekend when African leaders meet at their annual summit in Ethiopia, where they are expected to vote on sending 5,000 peacekeepers to Burundi, a plan the government has rejected.

Since Nkurunziza won presidential elections in July, clashes between loyalists and the opposition have turned increasingly violent.

The UN has warned that Burundi risks a repeat of the 1993-2005 civil war, with some 400 dead since April and at least 230,000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries.

On Friday, rights group Amnesty International released satellite photos they said “strongly indicate” five mass graves of those killed during battles in the capital in December.

“These images suggest a deliberate effort by the authorities to cover up the extent of the killings by their security forces and to prevent the full truth from coming out,” Amnesty’s regional chief Muthoni Wanyeki said.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.