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Burundi Authorities Claim to Have Freed 2,000 From Prison


President Pierre Nkurunziza, seen in this Aug. 2016 file photo, has announced clemency for more than 2,500 prisoners in Burundi.

Burundian authorities say they have released more than 2,000 prisoners, including dozens of members of the opposition MSD party. The release of the prisoners began last week, and the court is expected to complete the process in the coming days. But MSD party officials argue the clemency order issued by the president does not help to solve the country’s political crisis.

The courts in Burundi have been working around the clock to release more than 2,500 prisoners, after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced clemency.

The courts have been releasing an average of 150 prisoners a day.

Presidential deputy spokesman Karerwa Ndenzako says the pardon is for those with jail terms of less than five years.

“Whoever has been released has not been released because he is a member of this or that political party," said Ndenzako. "They have been released because the crimes they committed fulfilled the requirement in the presidential pardon and the message is to further consolidate peace and unity.”

Among those released are 58 MSD party opposition members. MSD Secretary General Abdoul Nzeyimana says the inmates being released did not commit crimes.

He says it is right they get their freedom after being denied their rights for more than two years. He says they will not say thank you, because there are many Burundians who have been jailed against the law because of their political choices.

Human right organizations say thousands of Burundians have been detained by security agencies and more than 250,000 have fled the country.

U.N. investigators documented hundreds of cases of torture and ill-treatment since Burundi's crisis began in April 2015 when president Nkurunziza announced a plan to run for a third term in office.

Since then, the country has been hit by a wave of violence and killings. Government officials believe the latest move will bring much needed stability and national reconciliation after nearly two years of political violence.

Nzeyimana of the opposition MSD party disagrees.

He says this is one way president Nkurunziza is using to show stability is returning to the country, but he says that is deceitful and a lie. He says there are more than 2,000 MSD party members in prison and only a few of the country's political prisoners were released. Nzeyimana says his party can not say anything constructive has been done.”

Ndenzako says this is the beginning of many things to come from President Nkurunziza.

"People are never satisfied, but there is a beginning for everything," sais Nkurunziza. "So they should not take this for granted, they should be thankful even for the small mercies and expect the best in the coming days.”

Most people rest their hope on political dialogue, but talks have failed to take off several times when the government refused to meet some opposition members they accuse of fomenting violence in Burundi.

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