Following a clemency order issued by President Pierre Nkurunziza [BBC profile], Burundi’s government began releasing [AP report] scores of prisoners on Wednesday. Included in those released were prisoners accused of endangering state security. This group of 300 released prisoners is expected to be the first of 2,500. While Burundi has always denied holding [France24 report] political prisoners, some are accusing Nkurunziza of using the clemency to make more space for other arbitrary, political arrests. Many of those due to be released had served most of their terms, many of which were under five years.
Violence in Burundi began in the wake of Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would seek a third term of office, to which he was elected [JURIST report] in July 2015. Earlier this month the Burundi government arrested six people [JURIST report] in connection with the murder of the country’s water, environment and planning minister, Emmanuel Niyonkuru, who was shot [BBC report] in the head shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve. Burundi has been the object of much international scrutiny over potential human rights abuses ever since. In November the former UN Human Rights Council President Choi Kyonglim [official profile], announced [JURIST report] that the UN commission investigating human rights violations in Burundi is to be staffed by Fatsah Ouguergouz of Algeria, Reina Alapini Gansu of Benin and Francoise Hampson [official profiles] of the UK. Earlier the same month, the International Federation of Human Rights urged the UN [JURIST report] and African Union to intervene and stop an impending genocide in Burundi. In October, Burundi withdrew [JURIST report] from the International Criminal Court amid an investigation into human rights abuses. In September, the UN Independent Investigation in Burundi expressed their grave concern [JURIST report] about the current human rights situation in Burundi.