High school students maintained in detention for scribbling on photographs of the president

Press release
en fr

(Paris, Bujumbura) In Burundi today, scribbling on photos of the president can be cause for arrest by the National Intelligence Service (SNR - service national de renseignement), and for prolonged detention and legal proceedings, whether one is a minor or not. Last Thursday, 30 June 2016, the Bujumbura court of appeal thus decided to uphold the decision to detain five high school students who have been behind bars in the appalling Muramvya central prison since June 3 for having drawn on photos of President Pierre Nkurunziza in their schoolbooks. In eight of the Burundi provinces, more than 600 students, between the ages of eight and nineteen, were either expelled from school or arbitrarily arrested for the same reason over a period of one month.

FIDH and ITEKA condemn in the strongest possible terms these shameful acts and call on the international community to do everything possible to have Burundian authorities release the imprisoned students and to re-instate the expelled students back into their schools. The international community must take all necessary steps to stem the tide of escalating repression and of a misguided regime with its increasingly blind authoritarianism.

« The expulsion of 620 students and the arbitrary arrest of some thirty others for scribbling are serious infringements of human rights and particularly that of the right to education for these youth. There is an extremely concerning issue that stems from all this: the regime is prepared to destroy all symbolic and moral barriers to stifle and punish those deemed to be detractors. »

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

This movement started on 3 June 2016, when eleven students – five girls and six boys aged 14 to 19 years old – were arbitrarily arrested by the National Intelligence Service (SNR – the force behind the repression since April 2015) in Muramvya province, located in the central part of the country. They were charged with "insulting the head of state" by scribbling on photos of President Pierre Nkurunziza in their schoolbooks. That same day, the police crushed a peaceful demonstration by students from Muramvya who were protesting against the arrests.

They fired live bullets into the crowd, injuring two students and a motorcyclist. On 7 June, six of the detained students received conditional release pending their trial. As for the five others (two of whom are girls) [1], on June 30 the Court of Appeal decided to keep them in detention. This case is emblematic of the unprecedented repression by Burundian authorities carried out throughout the country against students suspected of being opposed to President Nkurunziza’s third mandate and this is not the only case.

On Friday, 24 June [2], 16, students from the Rumonge secondary school [3] were arbitrarily arrested and then held in the Rumonge police station’s holding cell. They were accused of scribbling on the photo of President Nkurunziza in the schools books. Six girls were finally released on 30 June.

On 17 June, 82 students from the Kibezi secondary school, Mugamba commune, Bururi province, were temporarily expelled from their school. On that same day, 11 other students were arrested in the Bweru commune, Ruyigi province. They were released on 23 June after being questioned. Our organisations are also extremely worried about the detention of a young 19-year old female student of the Cankuzo secondary school who is being held in the Cankuzo prosecutor’s office in a cell guarded by male police officers. She was arrested by the prosecutor, the provincial police commissioner and the provincial head of the national intelligence service and put in jail on 14 June together with four of her friends. All five of them are being held at the Ruyigi central prison.

« Such shameful repression is taking place in a context marked by constant deterioration of human rights in the field. Our organisations have received extensive information about extrajudicial executions, assassinations, forced disappearances, acts of torture, mass arrests and frequent burial of bodies in mass graves, in Bujumbura and in the rest of the country. »

Anschaire Nikoyagize, President of Ligue ITEKA

On Thursday 30 June, for instance, more than 230 people were held for questioning in the centre of Bujumbura and forced into vehicles that took them to a municipal centre where the mayor, Freddy Mbonimpa, told them that from now on, they were not allowed to meander around the centre of the city without “some sort of mission”. He stressed that, “if they continue to do so, they would be incarcerated,” [4], which is a serious violation of the right of movement and a very outrageous act of repression.

« After more than a year of bloody fighting, it is time for the International community to react firmly to break this cycle of repression. The United Nations and the Conference of Heads of State of the African Union should face their responsibility and send in international troops to protect the civilian population. They should also urge the Burundian government to open inclusive, effective talks with the opposition [1], otherwise sanctions would be increased against the ‘dignitaries’ of the regime and those responsible for the repression. »

Dismas Kitenge Senga, FIDH Vice-President


Since April 2015, Burundi has been plunged in a political crisis stemming from the determination of President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third term. After his disputed re-election, brutal repression was waged against everyone suspected of being against the regime. Up until now, acts of repression allegedly have caused over 700 deaths, 4,300 persons detained and hundreds of persons who have disappeared (some sources reported the number to be 800), hundred of persons tortured, several dozens of women subjected to sexual violence and thousands of arrests. 270,000 people have already fled from the country and the authorities are sinking into logic of ethnic and genocide-based repression.

On 27 May 2016, five Grade 8 classes of the Ruziba primary and secondary schools in Bujumbura, i.e. 300 students between 8 and 10 years of age, were suspended. These were the first students accused of doodling on the photo of President Pierre Nkurunziza in their textbooks. This episode was the beginning of a nationwide cycle of repression. On Monday 13 June, 239 Gihinga high school students, in Gisuru, Ruyigi province, were suspended for refusing to tattle on their fellow students.

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