Thousands have taken to the streets of the Burundian capital Bujumbura after a popular radio host who was jailed for refusing to give up the identity of a source was released on bail on Thursday, Al Jazeera reported.
Bob Rugurika — a host and the director of the country's Radio Publique Africaine — was detained on January 20 for alleged complicity in murder, after he refused to identify a guest who claimed to have been involved in the killing of three Italian nuns in September 2014.
Rugurika's station is a popular independent outlet in the central African nation, and is nicknamed the "voice of the voiceless." He is a prominent government critic, the Guardian said, and his arrest came months ahead of key elections.
In the interview, the guest identified others suspected of involvement in the killings, including former and serving members of the intelligence services and police. He did not provide any evidence, The Guardian said.
Rugurika was then arrested on a number of charges — such as complicity in murder and concealing a criminal — and he will still face trial.
The news of Rugurika's release brought huge numbers of people onto the streets in what witnesses told AFP was one of the biggest demonstrations Bujumbura has seen in recent years.
Vast crowds were seen dancing and singing on the capital's streets.
A teacher named Fabian was at the demonstration, and was cited by the Guardian as saying: "I’m 50 and I have never seen such a crowd in the streets."
Fabian said the only event of comaprable size he could think of was celebrations following the elections for the country's first democratically-chosen president, Melchior Ndadaye, in 1993.
Radio Publique Africaine is seen as close to the Burundian opposition, and will often interview those who say they have been the victims of discrimination or injustice, The Guardian said.
The September killings took place in a suburb to the north of Bujumbura.
Two of the slain nuns, 82-year-old Olga Raschietti, and 75-year-old Lucia Pulici, were found partially decapitated in their dorm. A third, Bernardetta Boggian, 79, was found dead a day later.
Rugurika's arrest drew attention to press freedom in the landlocked nation, and caused consternation among human rights groups and journalistic organizations. The U.S. government and European Union politicians both called for his release, and last week the European Parliament threatened to suspend a five year, 432 million euro aid program if Rugurika was not freed, Al Jazeera reported.
Burundians go to the polls in June. Earlier this week, President Pierre Nkurunziza's spokesman warned opponents against taking to the streets to protest his bid to win a third term in office. Nkurunziza's critics say a third term would violate Burundi's constitution.
Burundi's political climate is fractious, and the country only emerged from a 13-year civil war in 2006.
Rugurika was released on Thursday on bail amounting to $9,600, his lawyer Lambert Nigarura said.
"My client gained a provisional release under the decision of the appeal court," Niagura added.
After his release, Rugurika headed into Bujumbura, followed by supporters who thronged the streets, packed into cars and on motorbikes, The Guardian reported.
In a radio broadcast, he said: "I have no words to thank the Burundian population. Thanks to your support, your commitment … I'm free at last."