The Burundian government should immediately release two prominent lawyers jailed amid an ongoing dispute with the government, Amnesty International said yesterday (28 July 2011), as a national lawyers’ strike continues.
The head of the Bar Association, Isidore Rufikiri, was arrested on 27 July after speaking at a rally in the capital, Bujumbura. Burundian lawyers are on strike this week to call for the release of their colleague, Suzanne Bukuru, who was arrested on 15 July on charges of “complicity in espionage” after speaking to French journalists about a case of alleged rape.
Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director, Erwin van der Borght said: “Arresting these lawyers violates the right to freedom of expression. The Burundian authorities must immediately release these lawyers and allow them and others to practice freely. The way they handle this will be a litmus test for the credibility of Burundi’s justice system.”
The prosecution summoned Rufikiri to the Court of Appeal on 27 July, and interviewed him on charges of “insulting magistrates”, apparently referring to comments he made about judicial interference at a lawyers’ protest on 25 July.
Following this questioning, Rufikiri was taken directly to Mpimba Central Prison. Bukuru was also summoned by the prosecution on 15 July, in relation to a case where she is representing five girls who allege they were raped by a French national living in Burundi. The accused was found guilty on 25 July and sentenced to 25 years in jail and a €14,000 fine. He is appealing the sentence.
Bukuru was questioned about having put her clients in touch with French journalists visiting Burundi before the verdict. She was charged with an unrelated and spurious offence of “complicity in espionage”, which carries a life sentence and can only be applied to foreigners and in times of war.
Bukuru was immediately transferred to Mpimba Central Prison and the court will rule on 1 August on whether to grant bail.
The prosecution also questioned Edras Ndikumana, a correspondent for Radio France International (RFI), about his role in putting French journalists in contact with Bukuru.