Burundi: IDHB and Acat-Burundi denounce the continued detention of five Burundian activists

Burundi: IDHB and Acat-Burundi denounce the continued detention of five Burundian activists

A few days ago, the Ntahangwa court in the northern commercial city of Bujumbura decided to keep five Burundian human rights defenders in detention. Incarcerated in the central prison of Bujumbura known as Mpimba, the concerned are prosecuted, among other things, for undermining the internal security of the State, the proper functioning of the economy, rebellion and the financing of terrorism. The two organizations describe the situation as an “illegal detention and instrumentalization of justice” demanding the immediate release of the five activists. INFO SOS Médias Burundi

For Carina Tertsakian, associate researcher at the IDHB (Initiative for Human Rights in Burundi), the accusations against the five Burundian activists are “absurd”.

“The initiative for human rights in Burundi is very concerned about these arbitrary arrests, the gratuitous accusations against these five human rights defenders. The Burundian authorities including the Minister of the Interior have spoken of an alleged terrorism financing. But where is the link between these people, their associations and acts of terrorism? The right defenders are reportedly accused of undermining the internal security of the state, as well as rebellion and undermining the proper functioning of the economy, sincerely these accusations are absurd. It seems the authorities prosecute these associations for receiving funds from abroad. But this is not illegal and does not constitute a criminal offence”, reacts Carina Tertsakian who requests an immediate release of the five.

For someone who has worked on human rights issues in the Great Lakes region of Africa for a quarter of a century, this case is emblematic of the way in which the Burundian government reacts to organizations it distrusts, taking revenge against their representatives arbitrarily. She believes the case is part of a long series of arrests of members of civil society for several years.

“We notice a continuity and a certain pattern. You arrest a human rights defender or a journalist, it makes a bit of noise internationally, you release him after one or two years, then you arrest another and so on “, she remarks.

“The message is therefore clear, the government refuses to tolerate any criticism or even positive activities on the part of associations which work in favor of the Burundian population”.

The continued detention of the defenders was bad news for me. They are wrongly accused of undermining the internal security of the State and undermining the proper functioning of public finances, commented lawyer Armel Niyongere, president of Acat-Burundi.

“The accusations of collaborating with an organization not registered in Burundi has no legal basis. On the one hand, the obligation of local approval only applies when an ENGO seeks to implement activities in the country. When an organization does not implement any direct activity, does not have premises or any other property, does not employ human resources or does not execute any service contract in Burundi, then it does not require approval. On the other hand, Burundian law has no restriction on the collaboration of local non-profit organizations with unregistered partners”, continues the Burundian activist now in exile.

The rights activists were arrested in February, while the previous month, justice had wrongfully condemned the Burundian journalist Floriane Irangabiye for “undermining the integrity of the national territory”, on January 2, 2023, in violation of her rights to freedom of expression, he recalls.

“The deplorable practices of harassment of human rights defenders that we witnessed under the regime of the late Pierre Nkurunziza in 2015 are practically coming back: some emblematic cases are to be recalled, according to the lawyer:

“The case of human rights defenders and politicians in exile, wrongfully sentenced to life for participating in the 2015 coup attempt, the case of Germain Rukuki who had been sentenced to 32 years and whose sentence was reduced to one year after serving 4 years in prison”.

Despite the promise of President Évariste Ndayishimiye, during his inauguration to “guarantee everyone the right to speak, without fear or constraint, in a democratic country whose government guarantees the well-being of its people”, we are unfortunately witnessing the continuing locking of the democratic space and the violations of human rights and in particular the exercise of public freedoms, protests Armel Niyongere.

“This only tarnishes the image of the country in the concert of Nations while the political alternation of 2020 had nourished a lot of hope for the return to stability and the consolidation of the rule of law”, finds the activist.

Carina Tertsakian also concludes with some indignation.

“These arrests are in direct contradiction to everything the president has promised. He has promised freedom of speech, independence of the judiciary, but so it has become very difficult to believe his promises as long as the government continues to “use justice as a tool of repression against civil society. This tarnishes the image of Burundi as well as the image of President Ndayishimiye and his government as a whole”.

On February 16, two days after the arrest of the five Burundian human rights defenders, the Burundian minister in charge of internal affairs and security Martin Niteretse declared that “the results we now have show that there is a great probability of risk of financing of terrorism through these funds (funds that the associations of these activists receive from partners located outside the country). We must be vigilant on all points so that nothing comes to disturb the peace , public order”.

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