Burundi frees 740 political prisoners after presidential pardon

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Burundi released 740 political prisoners on Friday, mots of whom had been imprisoned after participating in protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza in 2015, during the early days of the country’s ongoing political crisis.

Their release follows a presidential pardon in the new year that promised to release more than 2,000 prisoners in 2018. Of the 740 released on Friday, 450 of the prisoners had been “sentenced for taking part in the insurrectional movement of 2015,” Justice Minister Aimee-Laurentine Kanyana said at a ceremony marking their release on Friday.

Burundi releases political prisoners

The release of 740 political prisoners from Bujumbura’s Mpimba prison –  the largest in Burundi – comes as the government prepares for a referendum that could allow Pierre Nkurunziza to run for another two terms in power. Releasing hundreds of prisoners who protested his run for a third term in 2015, ahead of a vote that decides whether he can extend his rule even further, helps legitimise the outcome of the May 17 referendum before voters even hit the polls.

Their release doesn’t come without conditions, though. Minister Kanyana warned the prisoners on Friday against committing “any re-offence” or they would face life imprisonment – although she didn’t clarify whether participating in anti-government protests alone would count as a re-offence.

Thousands of prisoners have been released from Burundi jails so far in 2018 as President Nkurunziza calls on citizens to be more patriotic in the build-up to elections in 2020. The government is also telling Burundi refugees in neighbouring countries to return to their homeland and help rebuild the country.

At least 1,200 people were killed and more than 400,000 displaced in post-election violence between April 2015 and may 2017, according to the International Criminal Court.

Featured image: “Mpimba Prisoners at Bujumbura are transplanting the seedlings from their nursery,Burundi 2012.” flickr photo by treesftf https://flickr.com/photos/plant-trees/6871846234 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.