Burundi frees political detainees after pardon
Burundi on Friday freed 740 prisoners, most of whom had been imprisoned after taking part in protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza in 2015, the government announced.
The detainees were released from Bujumbura's Mpimba prison -- the country's largest -- after a ceremony presided over by Justice Minister Aimee-Laurentine Kanyana, with several western ambassadors in attendance.
Their release came in the wake of a presidential pardon at the turn of last year.
Of the 740 released, 450 had been "sentenced for taking part in the insurrectional movement of 2015," Kanyana said, using the official term for protests that ran from late April to mid-June 2015.
A western diplomat who saw the ceremony said, "We heard that there would be many prisoners of opinion who were freed."
"It's good news if that's the case," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We will check before speaking on an official basis."
In 2015, the authorities released a number of opposition candidates, again in the context of a presidential pardon, but grassroots groups said the tally of those released was smaller than announced, and was followed by a wave of re-arrests.
The minister on Friday warned those released against committing "any re-offence," saying this would lead to life imprisonment.
The governor of Mpimba prison said the release would help to ease conditions in the overcrowded facility.
Around 2,800 people, most of them convicted for common-law offences, have been released since the start of 2018 under the latest pardon.
The tiny central African state was plunged into political crisis in April 2015 when Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term which he went on to win.
Post-election violence claimed at least 1,200 lives and displaced more than 400,000 people between April 2015 and May 2017, according to estimates by the International Criminal Court, which has opened an investigation.
The president has launched a campaign to hold a referendum on a new constitution, probably in May, that would set a limit of two seven-year presidential terms.
Doing so would enable Nkurunziza to stand again in 2020 and again in 2027.