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Freed British journalist decries Burundi media intimidation

February 5, 2016

A British photojournalist arrested by Burundi police last month said it was a “disturbing” insight into the daily “intimidation and oppression” the media faces in the troubled country.

Burundian security forces said they arrested Phil Moore, along with colleague Jean-Philippe Remy, Africa bureau chief for French daily Le Monde, alongside gunmen in the capital Bujumbura.

But Moore said that was “completely false” and he had not been with any gunmen, nor photographed weapons.

“That the authorities are making such patently false statements highlights the questionable veracity of their assertions on much more grave issues,” Moore said in a statement, now back home in Britain.

“The whole episode sends a worrying message to what is already a heavily depleted media space in Burundi.”

Both Moore and Remy have covered the region for years, winning several awards for their work. Their arrest sparked widespread condemnation from rights groups and diplomats, and they were freed after 24 hours.

But while they were never charged, their cameras and equipment, kit totalling several thousand dollars, were taken by police and have not been returned.

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

“Whilst I am immensely relieved to be free, our arrest offered a disturbing insight into the tactics employed by the security forces across the capital. Our detention was brief, and we were not tortured,” Moore added.

“Sadly this is not the case for the many Burundians who are rounded up every week across Bujumbura, some of whom simply seem to disappear.”

Moore, 34, 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.

“All of the independent radio stations — the primary source of information for the majority of the population — have been closed, and a great number of Burundian journalists have been forced into exile,” Moore added.

“Those still living and working in Burundi face regular intimidation and oppression to shine a light on what is taking place in the country. Whilst I am grateful for the spotlight that was shone on our plight, one must remember that theirs is daily.”

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