Burundi: Stop harassment of human rights defenders ahead of election

Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, human rights defender from Burundi. Photo JEAN PIERRE AIME

Amnesty International today launched a new campaign in solidarity with Burundian human rights defenders facing intimidation and harassment in the run-up to the country’s presidential election in June.

The campaign Komera, Turikumwe (Courage, We are Together) exposes the Burundian authorities’ increasing crackdown on human rights defenders and opposing voices, particularly after the announcement of a third term bid by Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza on 25 April 2015.

“As Burundi’s elections draw closer and as protests against the ruling party’s decision to select Pierre Nkurunziza as their presidential candidate continue, the authorities routinely harass human rights defenders while failing to investigate threats against them,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa. 

Through this campaign, Amnesty International’s members and the public will stand in solidarity with Burundian activists who now face increasing risks to their safety.

Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa

“Through this campaign, Amnesty International’s members and the public will stand in solidarity with Burundian activists who now face increasing risks to their safety.”

As part of the campaign, Amnesty International will raise awareness of a particular Burundian human rights defender every week and target the Burundian authorities through campaign actions, including messages of solidarity from Amnesty International’s members as well as media actions demanding an end to harassment of human rights defenders.

Several high profile activists have faced prolonged judicial proceedings in Burundi, restricting their freedom of action and ability to freely carry out their human rights work.

They include Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the president of the local human rights organization Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues (APRODH), and Bob Rugurika, the director of Radio publique africaine (RPA).

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was arrested on 15 May 2014 after he said on the radio that young men were receiving arms and uniforms and travelling to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo for military training. He was charged with threatening state security and using false documents.

He was released on medical grounds in September 2014, but his trial is still pending and he is not allowed to leave the capital, Bujumbura. On Monday 27 April, the police arrested Pierre Claver Mbonimpa at the Maison de la Presse (Media House) in Bujumbura. He was detained by the Intelligence Services and was only released the following afternoon, while the Maison de la Presse remains closed.

In addition, the authorities banned the independent private radios RPA, Bonesha FM and Radio Isanganiro from broadcasting outside Bujumbura on 26 April and closed the RPA offices the following day.

Burundian authorities had previously arrested Bob Rugurika, the director of RPA, on 20 January 2015 after RPA radio reported additional information on the murder of three Italian nuns in September 2014.

He was detained until 19 February 2015, when he was released on bail. He is not allowed to leave the country without authorization.   

 “In a country where freedom of expression, association and assembly is under serious threat, the role of human rights defenders cannot be underestimated,” said Sarah Jackson.

“These activists are constantly at risk of arrest, intimidation, harassment and violence, but they continue their work with remarkable courage in the face of adversity.”

Other human rights defenders continue to be routinely harassed by Burundian authorities.

On 24 March 2015, police surrounded the residence of Maitre Armel Niyongere, a prominent lawyer who represents Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. The police were not able to enter the home as they had no warrant.

On 10 April in Bujumbura, a grenade was thrown at the residence of journalist Egide Ndayisenga, who had recently reported on the possible framing of a suspect following the discovery of an arms cache. Ndasiyenga had also reported on citizens being unwilling to vote for their local parliamentarians.

Police are investigating the grenade incident, but the perpetrators are yet to be arrested.

Amnesty International has previously expressed concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi, especially regarding freedom of expression, assembly and association and has urged the Government of Burundi to fully respect these freedoms,

About the campaign:

The Komera Turikumwe campaign will highlight the work of human rights defenders at risk during the election period in Burundi.

The campaign stands in solidarity with human rights defenders and demands an immediate end to harassment against them.

In its 2014 report, Burundi: Locked Down, Amnesty International documented cases where the Government of Burundi violated rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The report highlights cases of harassment by Burundian officials or members of the ruling party of human rights defenders and members of the opposition.