Burundi rights activist handed five-year term

A Burundian activist has been jailed for five years accused of preparing reports on human rights abuses for a banned organisation, militant and legal sources said on Tuesday.

Nestor Nibitanga, who was convicted and sentenced on Monday, "long ran our office in Gitega" in central Burundi, said Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, the exiled president of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODEH).

This association was the main rights movement in the country until the regime shut it down after a political crisis erupted in 2015.

"He was sentenced on Monday morning by the Mukaza high court (in the capital Bujumbura) to five years of penal servitude for having continued to submit reports on human rights once APRODEH had been struck off by the government," Mbonimpa told AFP.

Nibitanga's lawyer, Fabien Segatwa, confirmed the sentence to AFP, but stressed that his client had for three years been working with the Burundian National Network of human rights organsations, which is still authorised to function. In this capacity, he should not have been convicted, Segatwa said.

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Nibitanga was arrested in Gitega on November 21, 2017, by the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and transferred to Rumonge prison in the southwest, where he has been held since.

"Those in power pursue the repression of independent civil society, but in any case, we didn't expect anything else from a judiciary that takes orders from the executive," Mbonimpa told AFP.

"At least he wasn't tortured and killed like other activists or (political) opponents arrested by this regime, even if he copped a free jail term," added the APRODEH chief, who was seriously wounded in an attempt on his life in August 2015.

Burundi plunged into political crisis after the ruling party nominated President Pierre Nkurunziza for a third term in office, which his foes said was banned by the constitution.

The mandate was criticised by opposition politicians, civil society, the Roman Catholic Church, but Nkurunziza's followers foiled a coup bid and he was duly re-elected.

Several human rights activists have been jailed in recent years, including Germain Ruvakuki, who was last April sentenced to 32 years for "insurrection", because he was a member of one of the civic bodies that led street protests against Nkurunziza's third term in 2015.

At the beginning of June, the 54-year-old Nkurunziza announced that he would not stand for another term in office in 2020.

His announcement came just after the adoption of a new constitution under which the head of state could remain in office until 2034.