While the crackdown continues in Burundi against anyone who dares challenge President Pierre Nkurunziza, authorities showed how thin-skinned they really are when arresting seven schoolchildren last week. The children stood accused of having scribbled on the president’s photo in their school books.
Upon arrest, the children were brought before the public prosecutor in Kirundo province. A 13-year-old, being below the age of criminal responsibility, was released. Six girls, however, were taken to the local police station jail.
Three were later released, but the three others, all teenagers under the age of 18, remained in jail over the weekend. They were charged on Monday with insulting the head of state, and could spend up to five years in prison if found guilty.
A judicial source, who called the case “very sensitive” and said it was overseen directly by the Attorney-General, reported that the girls arrived at the prison on Wednesday afternoon.
It was not clear when they might face trial, but the father of one of the girls said they were already “too scared to eat”, according to Mr Lewis Mudge, from Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In 2016, several schoolchildren were handed prison sentences for similar scribbles on the president’s face, and hundreds of pupils expelled, sparking an international outcry.
With so many real crimes being committed in Burundi, it’s tragic that children are the ones being prosecuted for harmless scribbles.
Since April 2015, the country has been in the throes of a political and human rights crisis triggered by Nkurunziza’s controversial decision to stand for a third term. Since then, security services and the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth league, have killed, arbitrarily arrested, abducted, beaten, raped, and intimidated real and perceived political opponents with impunity.
Authorities should focus on holding perpetrators of serious rights violations to account instead of jailing schoolchildren for doodles.