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Burundi police arrest US reporter, local journalist

October 23, 2016

Burundi police said Sunday they had briefly arrested an American freelance journalist along with a local reporter working with her, who was still being held.

Police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said on his Twitter timeline that journalist Julia Steers and Gildas Yihundimpundu were arrested on suspicion of “trying to destroy evidence of crimes by insurgents.”

Steers, who had official accreditation, was released, but her colleague was still being interrogated and her driver detained.

“Many thanks for concerns — I’m safe but remain extremely concerned for my Burundian colleague Gildas Yihundimpundu and our driver Pascal,” Steers tweeted after her release.

The pair are the latest in a long line of journalists arrested by Burundi authorities in a crackdown on the media since a crisis prompted by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s disputed run for a third term in office in April 2015.

Marked by assassinations on both sides, attacks against the police and summary executions, the violence has left more than 500 people dead and forced more than 270,000 Burundians to flee the country, according to the UN.

Burundi’s government has silenced independent journalists at home and regularly lashes out at the international media, accusing the press of being part of a “conspiracy” to overthrow it.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimates 100 journalists have been forced into exile since the violence erupted.

The CPJ this week urged Burundi’s national intelligence service to release radio journalist Salvador Nahimana, detained since October 2.

Another journalist, Jean Bigirimana, of the independent Iwacu newspaper, has been missing since July 22.

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