BURUNDI: Doodling on president’s picture, three school girls risk five years imprisonment
An international rights group called The Human Rights Watch said that the authorities of Burundi has arrested seven school children because they doodled on President Nkurunziza’s picture printed in their textbooks, TOWN CRIER has gathered.
The HRW said all arrested school children are all girls and added that out of the seven girls, four were later released over the weekend while the three others were charged with an offence of “insulting the head of state”. If found guilty, the school girls may spend up to five years of their lives in prison.
According to a statement issued by the HRW in March 19 and titled “Jailed in Burundi for Scribbles on President’s Photo”, HRW’s Director for Central Africa, Mr Lewis Mudge, said:
“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. The girls, one father said on Saturday, are too scared to eat.”
Scribbling (on the president’s picture) is a serious and punishable crime under the Burundian legal system. However, some social critics believe the embattled children will be treated with leniency, on age grounds.
The HRW statement continued by reminding the world that the Burundi authorities had in 2016 equally cracked down on eight secondary school students for a similar offense:
“This is not the first-time school administrators and authorities have cracked down on children’s doodling. In 2016, Burundian intelligence agents arrested eight secondary school students and also accused them of insulting the head of state for drawing and writing phrases like “Get out” or “No to the 3rd term” on a picture of Nkurunziza in a textbook. The same year, hundreds of children were expelled from several schools for scribbling on the president’s face in textbooks.”
The statement added
“With so many real crimes being committed in Burundi, it’s tragic that children are the ones being prosecuted for harmless scribbles,”
Meanwhile, in another statement issued last year, the HRW accused the Burundi’s security services and the president Pierre Nkurunziza’s ruling party Youth League of widespread human rights abuses so as to enable president Nkurunziza remained in power until 2034.
The HRW statement reads:
“Burundi’s security services and members of the Imbonerakure, the ruling party youth league, carried out widespread human rights abuses throughout 2018, including summary executions, rapes, abductions, beatings, and intimidation of suspected political opponents. Many of the worst abuses occurred in the lead-up to a May 17 constitutional referendum, which enables President Pierre Nkurunziza to potentially remain in power until 2034.”
“The humanitarian situation remains dire; the country’s once vibrant civil society and media landscape has been decimated since the crisis began in April 2015, when Nkurunziza announced his bid for a disputed third term. On May 11, just before the referendum, unidentified assailants, suspected of entering Burundi from the Democratic Republic of Congo, launched one of the deadliest attacks in Burundi in recent years, killing 26 people, including 11 children, in Ruhagarika, Cibitoke Province,” the statement in part added.
A United Nations Human Rights Council-mandated commission of inquiry into the political crisis and violations caused by president Nkurunziza’s third term bid reported last year in September that serious violations, including crimes against humanity, continued in 2017 and 2018