February 18, 2015 / 4:23 PM / 2 years ago

Burundi frees journalist tied to suspect in murder of Italian nuns

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - A radio show host in Burundi who was detained last month after he refused to identify a guest who said he been involved in the murder of three Italian nuns, was freed on bail on Wednesday, his lawyer said.

The detention of Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), drew attention to media freedom in the east African country, with the U.S. government, EU politicians, human rights groups and journalist organizations calling for him to be freed. He was charged with complicity in murder and concealing a criminal among other charges and will still face trial.

Rugurika was arrested on Jan. 20 after prosecutors accused him of concealing the identity of a guest who, during an interview aired in early January, said he was involved in the killing in September of three nuns in a northern suburb of the capital Bujumbura.

The guest also identified others suspected of involvement in the killings, including former and serving intelligence and police officers, but did not provide any evidence.

Two of the nuns, Lucia Pulici, 75, and Olga Raschietti, 82, were found partially decapitated in their dormitory in the suburb while a third, 79 year-old Bernadetta Boggian, was found dead the following day.

Pierre Claver Mbonimba, head of the Association for the Defense of Human Rights and Prisoners, speaking after Rugurika's arrest last month was among those calling for his release, saying he "has done his job as a journalist."

Rugurika was released after paying a 15 million franc bail ($9,600), his lawyer said.

Thousands of people gathered in front of the radio station's office in Bujumbura singing and dancing in support for Rugurika, after local media announced his release.

"My client gained a provisional release under the decision of the appeal court," said Lambert Nigarura, a lawyer representing Rugurika.

Nigarura said the court had banned the journalist from leaving the country. No trial date has been set.

Last week, the European parliament threatened to suspend a five-year aid program to Burundi worth 432 million euros if Rugurika was not freed.

Reporting by Patrick Nduwimana; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Susan Fenton

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