Burundian accused over nuns murder 'confession' in solitary confinement

File photo shows police patrolling a street in Bujumbura on September 26, 2013 (AFP Photo/Esdras Ndikumana)

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - A Burundi radio station boss, who broadcast the alleged confession of a man who claimed he was among the killers of three Italian nuns, was placed in solitary confinement in prison Thursday, activists said.

Bob Rugurika, director of the popular independent African Public Radio (RPA), was arrested earlier this week on charges of "complicity" in the nuns' murders after broadcasting the purported confession of the man who claimed he was one of the killers.

The three Roman Catholic nuns, Lucia Pulici, 75, Bernadetta Boggian, 79 and Olga Raschietti, 83, were murdered at a convent in Kamenge, north of the capital Bujumbura in September.

The confession broadcast by RPA last week contradicted the police, who said a man they arrested two days after the attacks had owned up to the murders.

The police presented that suspect as being mentally unstable.

RPA, which is close to the opposition, is renowned for its crime reporting.

For broadcasting the counter-confession and refusing to give up the self-proclaimed killer, Rugurika was charged with complicity in the murders, "breach of public solidarity" and disclosing confidential information regarding a case.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

On Thursday morning he was transferred from a cell in Bujumbura to a prison in Muramvya, 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of the capital, without his family or lawyers being informed, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, head of a prisoner rights group, told AFP.

Bujumbura prosecutor Arcade Nimubona confirmed the transfer but refused any further comment.

Mbonimpa, who accused the authorities of "moral and psychological torture", said Rugurika was placed in an isolation cell normally used to punish prisoners for misdemeanours and had been banned from receiving visits.

The man who made the radio claim to have been among the nuns' killer said he was ordered to carry out the hits by three men he met in a bar belonging to former spy boss, Adolphe Nshimirimana.

Nshimirimana, who now works in the presidency, is a one of President Pierre Nkurunziza's top lieutenants.

The killing of the nuns caused shock in Burundi and Italy.

Two of the nuns were stabbed to death. The third was decapitated.

Burundi, a small nation in Africa's Great Lakes region, emerged from 13 years of brutal civil war in 2006.

The political climate remains fractious ahead of presidential polls due in June.

In 2011, a Croatian nun and an Italian charity worker were killed in an apparent botched robbery in northern Burundi.