Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, urges Burundi’s government to respect civic freedoms and end violence against protesters. Since 26 April, riot police and security forces in Burundi have violently repressed peaceful protests in the capital, Bujumbura, against a third term bid for President by Pierre Nkurunziza.
Police have used teargas, water cannons and live ammunition on protesters killing six people and injuring several others. A number of human rights defenders have been arrested and the government has imposed a media blackout on independent radio stations to prevent them from broadcasting information about the demonstrations. The immediate cause of the protests is the decision of President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in June. The nomination is in violation of constitutional norms which mandate only two presidential terms. The President has been in power since 2005 and the June polls will be the third democratic elections organised since the end of Burundi’s brutal civil war (1993-2005). The current attacks on protesters have been preceded by state repression targeting dissenters, journalists and activists; and threats, intimidation and physical attacks on members of the political opposition by the armed wing of the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party – the Imbonerakure.
“Burundians have the right to reject the third term bid of President Pierre Nkurunziza as it is not only unconstitutional but also against the letter and spirit of the Arusha peace accords that brought an end to a decade-long civil war. The authorities should learn lessons from the country’s violent past and allow the people to exercise their right to express democratic dissent,” said David Kode, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS.
Freedom of expression is being severely restricted in Burundi through the targeting of independent radio stations and social media platforms used by activists and ordinary citizens to curtail the spread of information about the demonstrations. On 26 April the state imposed a media blackout on three major independent radio stations – Isanganiro, Bonesha FM and Radio Publique Africaine preventing them from reporting outside Bujumbura. Telephone lines of radio stations have been disconnected to prevent the media from broadcasting information on the demonstrations. On 27 April Radio Publique Africaine was closed down by the authorities after three government ministers and police officers stormed the premises with search and arrest warrants. The Press Club La Maison de la Presse was also shut down after police raided the offices.
Police also detained and later released human rights defender, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa who had arrived at the Press Club for an interview. Pierre Claver is President of the Association Burundaise pour la Promotion des Droits Humains et des personé Détenue (APRODH). He was initially arrested on 15 May 2014 and released provisionally on medical grounds on 29 September 2014. Due to the on-going clamp down on dissent at least 15,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries to escape from the violence that will likely increase before, during and after the elections. There are credible reports from the civil society community that arrest warrants have been issued for at least two human rights defenders. Many activists have gone into hiding to avoid attacks from the authorities.
CIVICUS calls on the Burundian Government to stop the violence against its own citizens, allow peaceful demonstrations to take place and lift restrictions on independent radio stations and on social media. CIVICUS urges the African Union to put pressure on Burundi to respect its democratic ideals to prevent more abuses. Burundi’s close development partners, particularly Belgium, France and the Netherlands, should condemn the attacks on freedom of expression and assembly and urge the government to respect its constitutional and human rights obligations.