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JUST IN: Burundi schoolgirls detained for defacing President’s photo still in custody despite order to free them

The girls are accused of defacing photographs of Nkurunziza in five textbooks still detained despite an order to release them. (PHOTO/FILE)

BUJUMBURA – The Burundi schoolgirls detained for drawing on a photo of President Pierre Nkurunziza in their school books are still being held in detention, two days after the country’s justice minister ordered their provisional release, says Human Rights Watch as reported by CNN.

Multiple media reports had quoted Aimée Laurentine Kanyana, the minister of justice, telling state broadcaster RTNB on Monday, March 25 that the girls had been due to be released.

But Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch Wednesday, March 27 said the girls have still not been released.

The three schoolgirls were charged last Monday with “insulting the head of state” and faced up to five years in jail if convicted.

“The Burundian justice minister announced on Monday that Ngozi court would be releasing the three girls from pre-trial detention while investigations are ongoing,” Mr. Mudge said.

“Human Rights Watch confirmed today that the girls were still in detention, but we hope they will be released soon to continue their education,” he added.

Mr. Mudge revealed that while the girls have legal representation in the ongoing case, Human Rights Watch hopes the “absurd” charges they are facing are also dropped.

“It’s outrageous that they are still under investigation for harmless doodles found in their school books,” he said.

Their detention has led to international condemnation of the Burundian government as many on social media showed their support for the girls with crudely drawn images of Nkurunziza with the hashtag #FreeOurGirls.

The schoolgirls, who are all minors, are part of an initial group of seven who were arrested earlier this month in Kirundo province, in Burundi’s northeast.

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