BUJUMBURA – Authorities in Burundi rounded seven schoolchildren last week for scribbling on the president’s photo in their textbooks, according to the international rights group, Human Rights Watch.
According to a March 19 statement titled Jailed in Burundi for Scribbles on President’s Photo, the children were subsequently arraigned before a prosecutor in the northern Kirundo province.
Four were released over the weekend but the remaining three were charged earlier this week with insulting the head of state.
With so many real crimes being committed in Burundi, it’s tragic that children are the ones being prosecuted for harmless scribbles.
“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,” the statement read in part.
It was issued by HRW’s Director for Central Africa, Lewis Mudge and made reference to a previous incident three years ago when eight secondary school students were held by intelligence agents for a similar offence.
“With so many real crimes being committed in Burundi, it’s tragic that children are the ones being prosecuted for harmless scribbles,” Mudge said.
The country has since 2015 been gripped by a political and security crisis majorly arising from President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term. Reports of arrests for hard tackling of the sporty president during friendly football games have also been in the media months back.
Burundi has quit the International Criminal Court, ICC, after accusing the United Nations-backed court of bias and targeting. Most recently, they forced the closure of the UN office in Bujumbura, a development the UN rights chief described as regrettable.
“Authorities should focus on holding perpetrators of serious rights violations to account instead of jailing schoolchildren for doodles,” the statement concluded.