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Burundian Amnesty International, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative and Human Rights Watch said today that the authorities should immediately and unconditionally release the five human rights defenders who were arbitrarily arrested on February 14, 2023, and drop the baseless charges against them.

The five human rights defenders have been charged with subversion and undermining the functioning of the state’s internal security and public finances. The allegations seem to relate only to his association with an international organization abroad and the money received from this organization. Two defenders work for the Association of Women Lawyers in Burundi (Association des Femmes Jurists du Burundi, AFJB) and three work for the Association for Peace and the Promotion of Human Rights in Burundi (Association pour la paix et la promotion des Droits de l) ‘Homme, epdh).

“The arrest and serious charges against five human rights defenders indicate a deteriorating environment for independent civil society in Burundi,” said clementine de montjoy, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If working in partnership with international groups or receiving funding is deemed a criminal offense and a threat to state security, the little space left for civil society to operate in Burundi will be closed.”

On 16 February, the Minister of the Interior, Community Development and Public Security, Martin Niteretse, accused the organizations of working with an international NGO.

Intelligence agents arrested four of the defenders – Sonia Ndikumasabo, the president of the AFJB, and Marie Emrusabe, the general coordinator; Audes Hwyarimana, legal representative, and Silvana Inamhoro, executive director of APDH – prepare to fly to Uganda for a meeting with partners at Melchior Ndadei Airport in Bujumbura on February 14.

The APDH land project coordinator, Prosper Runyangye, was arrested in Ngozi on 14 February and transferred to Bujumbura the next day. The five defectors were held at the National Intelligence Service (Service National de Reconnaissance, SNR) headquarters in Bujumbura, then transferred to Mpimba Central Prison in Bujumbura on 17 February. ,

Niteretse told the media: “The matter is going on. The results we have at this time suggest that there is a high likelihood that there is a risk of terrorism financing through these funds. We should be vigilant at all points to ensure that nothing disturbs the peace and public order. Under international human rights law and standards, seeking, receiving and using financial resources, including from foreign and international sources, is an important component of the right to freedom of association. Unjustified restrictions on the resources available to organizations have a negative impact on the right to freedom of association.

The two organizations work on gender-based violence and land rights and are officially registered in Burundi. They help some of the most marginalized groups in Burundian society. The decision to prosecute defenders of judicial officers, apparently based solely on their organizations’ partnership with an international organization and funding, has raised fears of another civil society crackdown in Burundi and the presidency. has weakened. Declared Reforms Agendaorganizations said.

In October 2018, authorities suspended the activities of most foreign organizations in Burundi and forced them to re-register, which included submitting documents that stated the ethnicity of their Burundian employees.

Government policy is based on Law on Foreign NGOsadopted in January 2017, due to which Some international organizations should close their offices in Burundi because they disagreed with the ethnic quotas imposed by the government and objected to requiring their employees to provide information on their ethnicity. Some said they feared that submitting this information could put their employees at risk of racial profiling and targeting.

“The charges against these five human rights defenders of threatening state security and inciting rebellion are absurd,” said Carina Tertskian of the Burundi Human Rights Initiative. “If officials have questions regarding the sources of their funds, these may be resolved through normal administrative channels, as provided by law.”

During the third and final term of late President Pierre Nkurunziza, from 2015 to 2020, independent Civil society and the media were often targeted, and their members attacked, forcibly disappeared, detained and threatened. Hundreds of human rights defenders and journalists fled the country and many remained in exile. There is almost complete impunity for these crimes.

Since President Evariste Ndishimiye came to power in June 2020 and despite his promises to restore freedom of expression and association, the government’s hostility towards Burundi’s once-thriving civil society and media has persisted. Five rights defenders arrested after being convicted on January 2, 2023 Online journalist, Floriane Irangabie10 years in prison for “undermining the integrity of the national territory” in violation of his rights to freedom of expression and a fair trial.

These latest arrests and Erangabie’s conviction reverse a brief moment of optimism following his acquittal and release in December. Tony Jermaine Ncina, a lawyer and former human rights defender, unjustly imprisoned for more than two years on baseless allegations of collaborating with an insurgent group. Twelve human rights defenders and journalists in exile were convicted in June 2020 of participating in the May 2015 coup attempt. The verdict, which was only made public in February 2021, came after an intensely flawed trial, during which the defendants were absent and did not have legal representationViolating the most basic due process principles. 12 were found guilty of “assault on the authority of the State,” “murder,” and “destruction.”

The arrests of Ndikumasabo, Emrusabe, Hwyarimana, Inamhoro, and Runyange appear to be designed to deter human rights defenders and their organizations from collaborating with an international organization, hinder their organizations’ activities, and intimidate other activists. The organizations said such behavior belies the claims of the Burundian authorities that they respect human rights and further tarnishes the image of openness and reform they try to project internationally.

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Flavia Mwangowya, deputy regional director at Amnesty International. “If Burundian authorities want their human rights promises to be taken seriously, they must allow civil society to do its valuable work – including protecting and assisting victims of human rights violations – without harassment.”

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