January 29, 2016 / 9:35 AM / 2 years ago

British, French journalists free in Burundi, one day after arrest

British photojournalist Phil Moore stands in the hallway outside the prosecutor's office in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Jean Pierre Aime Harerimana

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A British and a French journalist arrested during a sweep for rebels in flashpoint districts of the capital were released on Friday, a witness said.

Moise Nkurunziza, deputy police spokesman, said the police had picked up British photojournalist Phil Moore and Jean Philippe Remy, a French journalist, during raids in Jabe and Nyakabiga neighborhoods in Bujumbura on Thursday.

A Reuters witnesss said the two men were seen leaving the courthouse on Friday. They made no comment to reporters.

In a statement on its website, Le Monde newspaper had demanded the release of both journalists, saying they were the newspaper’s special correspondents in Burundi.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had also called for the immediate release of the journalists, while the British Foreign Office said it was “urgently looking into reports” about the detention of a UK national.

Remy is the Africa bureau chief for the French newspaper Le Monde, while Moore, a freelance photographer, has often reported from conflict zones in the region. Both men have won awards for their coverage of sub-Saharan Africa.

Burundi has been in turmoil since April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to run for a third term in office, sparking weeks of street protests by the opposition who said his bid was unconstitutional.

Nkurunziza’s government foiled an attempted coup in May, but continued clashes and gun attacks in the central African nation have unnerved a region where memories of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda are still raw.

The United States and European nations have criticized the government’s clampdown on media, including the shuttering of private radio stations.

The government has also expelled foreign journalists, including Sonia Rolley from France’s RFI radio who was reporting on sexual violence committed by police officers.

In a statement calling for the release of Remy and Moore, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the arrests had occurred “in the context of severe government repression against journalists, with all the main Burundian private radio stations suspended since April/May 2015”.

Writing by Drazen Jorgic and Edith Honan; Additional reporting by Andrew Callus in Paris and Sarah Young in London; Editing by Ralph Boulton

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