Four journalists and a driver were detained by Burundian police on Tuesday morning while on assignment.
The team was detained in Bubanza province in the northwestern part of the country.
“We call for the immediate release of our journalists Agnes Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana, Terence Mpozenzi and the driver Adolphe Masabarakiza,” said Leandre Sikuyavuga the director of a local newspaper Iwacu.
The journalists with the Iwacu newspaper “were arrested (Tuesday) at midday while trying to get witness statements from residents fleeing the fighting”.
Police spokesman Moise Nkurunziza did not want to reveal the reason behind their arrest during a press conference.
“The journalist’s case is being handled by the police in charge and we are waiting to hear what they are being accused of.
If they are found not guilty they will be set free and if they are found guilty they will have to be taken to court,” said Nkurunziza.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday also demanded the journalists’ “immediate release.”
A Burundian journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “the objective was to prevent the presence of the media in this area, and it was successful, no other information aside from that given by officials is getting out”.
A local official in Bubanza indicated the situation was still tense, and told AFP a police officer had been killed by a “residual group of rebels” on Wednesday evening.
Iwacu—one of the last independent publications in the country—has previously reported on cases of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests during attacks in this area of Burundi.
RSF recently warned that there was such a crackdown on the media in Burundi that “there is a risk of all forms of independent journalism disappearing less than a year before the presidential election of May 20, 2020.”
Burundi is currently ranked 159th out of 180 countries by RSF’s world press freedom index.