Burundi: Civil Society Repression Intensifies


We are seriously concerned by the increasing crackdown on critical voices in Burundi following the recent detention of five human rights defenders and the imprisonment of a journalist.

The human rights defenders – Sonia Ndikumasabo, Marie Emerusabe, Audace Havyarimana, Sylvana Inamahoro and Prosper Runyange – were arrested on 14 February in connection with their human rights work. On 15 March, the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court ruling to keep them in detention pending trial.

The five have been charged with rebellion, undermining internal security and undermining the proper functioning of public finances. These charges appear to be based solely on their association with an international human rights NGO, Avocats sans Frontières. Working with a non-governmental organization, even one not registered in Burundi, is not – and should not be – prohibited under Burundian law.

This crackdown on civil society comes as we are also seeing an assault on press freedom in Burundi. An example of this is the case of Floriane Irangabiye, a journalist who has spent more than six months in prison simply for doing her job. She was arrested in August last year while visiting from Rwanda, in connection with a radio interview she did with two other foreign-based Burundians – a fellow journalist and a human rights defender. On 2 January 2023, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined one million Burundian francs (about USD 500) for allegedly undermining the integrity of the national territory.

Suppression of civil society, often based on legislation inconsistent with the State’s human rights obligations, has been a consistent trend in Burundi since the 2015 electoral crisis, which forced many human rights defenders and journalists into exile.

We urge the Burundian authorities to fully uphold human rights standards regarding freedom of expression and association, release these individuals and quash the charges against them that stem from conduct protected under human rights law. We further urge the authorities to create a safe and conducive environment for the work of human rights defenders and journalists, free from intimidation and retaliation. It is equally important to review laws on media and non-profit organisations, so they are in line with the international standards.

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