Burundi frees prisoners, but rights groups cautious

(iStock)
(iStock)

Nairobi - Burundi began Monday releasing a quarter of its jail population under a mass presidential pardon, but prisoners' rights groups voiced concern they were just making room for more political inmates.

A first group of 300 were released from the Mpimba central prison in Bujumbura, but authorities aim to free some 2 500 of the total, which stood at 10 051 last month.

The releases, which included 58 activists arrested in a police crackdown on demonstrators in April 2014, were aimed at "relieving prisons to allow those remaining to live in acceptable conditions," said Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana.

"Every time political prisoners are released it's a good thing," Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa of the Aprodeh prisoners' defence group told AFP.

"But we are calling above all for the release of over 4 000 political detainees since the start of the crisis in Burundi," added Mbonimpa, who lives in exile in Belgium.

But he said the pardon by President Pierre Nkurunziza was also aimed at "making space for the victims of numerous arbitrary arrests which add to the repression which Burundi suffers".

Burundi has always denied holding political prisoners.

The African country has been in the throes of a serious, sometimes deadly political crisis since April 2015 when Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term which opponents said was unconstitutional.

He went on to win an election in July that was boycotted by the opposition and criticised by outside observers.

The violence in Burundi has so far killed at least 500 people and driven more than 300 000 to leave the country.

Burundi has also moved to quit the International Criminal Court which was investigating the country, and cut ties with the UN's main human rights body after a damning September report detailed atrocities and warned of "genocide".

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Who do you think is going to win the 2020 US election?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Biden is going to take it
46% - 5606 votes
It's four more years for Trump
54% - 6647 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
16.40
(+0.27)
ZAR/GBP
21.35
(-0.19)
ZAR/EUR
19.45
(+0.06)
ZAR/AUD
11.60
(-0.04)
ZAR/JPY
0.16
(-0.00)
Gold
1918.11
(+0.41)
Silver
24.98
(+1.03)
Platinum
877.00
(+0.72)
Brent Crude
43.05
(+1.28)
Palladium
2398.00
(+0.84)
All Share
55318.92
(+0.09)
Top 40
50912.62
(+0.12)
Financial 15
9963.50
(+0.07)
Industrial 25
75562.50
(-0.01)
Resource 10
53902.09
(+0.21)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo