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Burundi police release detained journalist, driver

October 24, 2016

A Burundi journalist who was arrested with an American reporter and their driver while out reporting in the troubled nation, was released on Monday, according to colleagues.

Gildas Yihundimpundu was detained on Sunday alongside American freelancer Julia Steers, who was released shortly afterwards as she had official accreditation and has since returned to Nairobi where she lives.

He and the driver, whose name was only given as Pascal, were “released at around 14:00pm, free from prosecution and are doing well,” a colleague told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Gildas tells me he and Pascal are physically unharmed, ‘just hungry’ … a very positive ending to a harrowing two days for them,” Steers wrote on Twitter after their release.

Police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said Sunday the pair were arrested on suspicion of “trying to destroy evidence of crimes by insurgents,” the term used by officials to designate those who opposed President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term election bid, which sparked 18 months of crisis in the country.

The pair were the latest in a long line of journalists arrested by Burundi authorities in a crackdown on the media since the crisis erupted.

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 arrested several foreign reporters, accusing the international media 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.

Burundi, which has cut ties with the United Nation’s rights office as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC), on Monday banned five new organisations, including the Burundi Union of Journalists and the rights group SOS Torture.

They are considered to be “disturbing state order and security,” according to the interior ministry.

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