At least 17 people, including two foreign journalists, have been arrested in a late-night police raid in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura, a presidential spokesman said.
Willy Nyamitwe said in a series of tweets late on Thursday that officers arrested 17 people in the Jabe and Nyakabiga neighbourhoods, and that they recovered a cache of weapons.
French journalist Jean Philippe Remy, the Africa bureau chief for Le Monde newspaper, and Phil Moore, a British freelance journalist and regular contributor to Al Jazeera English, were among those held.
— Amb. Willy Nyamitwe (@willynyamitwe) January 28, 2016
In a statement released on Friday, La Monde said both journalists were legally in the country and “were merely exercising their profession by meeting all parties concerned by the current tensions in Burundi”. In Nairobi, the Foreign Correspondents Association of East Africa (FCAEA) said they were “extremely concerned about the arrests” of their colleagues.
“We know them to be consummate professionals and are disturbed by news of their detention while they were doing their jobs in Bujumbura,” the FCAEA said.
Gunshots and searches
Earlier, Nancy Ninette Mutoni, described as a senior media and communications adviser to the government, said in a separate tweet that a source confirmed that Remy and Moore were the two people identified as having “press accreditation” by a police spokesman who announced the 17 arrests on state television.
— Nancy Ninette MUTONI (@nancymutoni) January 28, 2016
Earlier on Thursday and before his arrest, Moore mentioned raids in the area in a number of tweets.
Burundian journalists flee
Burundi has been in political crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term in office in April, going on to win a heavily disputed election three months later.
Rights groups say that authorities have since cracked down on opposition parties, human rights activists and the media. At least 300 people have been killed in intermittent violence during the crisis and 215,000 others have fled the country.
African leaders are scheduled to vote next week on whether to deploy a 5,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force in the country, a move Burundi strongly opposes.
In November, Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom lobby group, described independent media in Burundi as being under attack.
“Many journalists have fled the country. Those who remain are trying to work but the authorities seem intent on preventing them from covering hard news. This must stop,” Mahoney said.