Burundi: Human rights defender jailed for 32 years must be released

The Burundian authorities should overturn the 32-year sentence handed to human rights defender Germain Rukuki and set him free, according to Amnesty International following his appeal hearing on 26 November.
“Germain was tried and imprisoned simply because he worked for a human rights organization. The appeal court should quash his sentence and release him immediately and unconditionally,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“The Burundian government must also release all other prisoners of conscience in the country and allow human rights defenders to do their work without fear of reprisals.”
Germain Rukuki was arrested on 13 July 2017 in the capital Bujumbura and charged on 1 August 2017. The charges were based on his former affiliation with the anti-torture organization, ACAT-Burundi, which was suspended in the latter part of 2015 and permanently closed in October 2016.
His trial took place before the Ntahangwa High Court, at Ngozi prison, where he was transferred two weeks after his arrest. Neither Germain Rukuki nor his lawyers were present when the verdict and sentence were handed down by the court on 26 April 2018. The decision had been expected in early May.
He was acquitted of charges of “assassination” and “destruction of public and private buildings” but found guilty of “rebellion”, “threatening state security”, “attacking the authority of the state” and “participation in an insurrectionist movement”.
In June this year, Germain Rukuki was hospitalized and underwent surgery for a fracture in his right ankle sustained during an accident in prison. He also injured his right shoulder and leg. After his return to prison, he applied for provisional release in order to receive adequate medical treatment and full rehabilitation in hospital. No decision on this request has been communicated to date.
“The authorities have an obligation to provide care to Germain Rukuki while he is in their custody and they must ensure he gets comprehensive treatment for his injuries, including the necessary post-operative care,” said Joan Nyanyuki.
Another jailed human rights defender, Nestor Nibitanga, was found guilty of “threatening state security” and sentenced to five years in prison on 13 August 2018. Nestor Nibitanga, who was arrested in November 2017, had been an observer with the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH) before the organization was shut down.
Others jailed for their human rights work are Aimé Constant Gatore, Marius Nizigama and Emmanuel Nshimirimana, who worked with PARCEM – Words and Actions for the Awakening of Consciences and the Evolution of Mentalities. They were arrested in June 2017 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on 8 March 2018 on charges of “threatening state security”.
Amnesty International considers all these men prisoners of conscience – imprisoned solely because of their human rights work.
The civic space in Burundi continues to shrink since the start of the political crisis in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to stand for a third term in office, sparking mass protests.
The Burundian authorities have clamped down on members of the political opposition, independent civil society and media. Many human rights defenders and journalists have fled the country and many of those that remained have faced threats and reprisals, including arrests, prosecution on trumped-up charges, and suspected enforced disappearances.
APRODH and ACAT-Burundi, along with several other civil society organizations, were shut down in October 2016 by the Minister of Interior, Pascal Barandagiye, following their initial suspension in 2015. They were accused of “tarnishing the image of the country” and “sowing hatred and division among the Burundian population”.
In October this year, all international non-governmental organizations (except for those running schools and hospitals) were temporarily suspended after the government accused them of not upholding new legislation with respect to ethnic quotas in recruitment and financial requirements, among others.
For more information, or to request an interview, please contact:
Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (English):  +1 613-744-7667 ext. 236; lscholey@amnesty.ca