One early morning three years ago, dozens of members of the security forces raided the house of Burundian human rights activist, Germain Rukuki, in the capital Bujumbura.
Rukuki and his wife, who was then pregnant with their third child, were interrogated for hours about the nature of their work before security forces took Germain away to the National Intelligence Service (Service national de renseignement – SNR).
Rukuki is currently serving an outrageous 32-year prison sentence simply for advocating for human rights. Now that Burundi has a new government, which has promised a new dawn, it is time to put an end to this injustice and set him free.
Prior to Rukuki’s arrest, civil society organizations, including his then-employer – Association of Christians Against Torture (ACAT Burundi) – had organized mass protests against late President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in office, which was widely considered to be unconstitutional.
The demonstrations were violently dispersed by security forces as well as the ruling party’s increasingly militarised youth wing, the Imbonerakure.
In fact, since that time, the Nkurunziza government systematically targeted any real or perceived dissenting voices, including human rights defenders, many of whom had to flee the country.Daily newsletter: join our 100 000 subscribers!Each day, get the essential: 5 things you need to know Sign up Also receive offers from The Africa ReportAlso receive offers from The Africa Report’s partners
The process that resulted in Rukuki’s conviction was anything but fair. He was interrogated at the SNR office, where many who have entered have never been heard of again. The SNR office is renowned for torture and killings. Rukuki was there for close to two weeks without his lawyers, before being transferred to the overcrowded Ngozi Prison in the north of the country.
Trumped up charges
When the charges against him were published in August 2017, they included “threatening state security” and “rebellion” for previously working with ACAT-Burundi. ACAT-Burundi, along with several other civil society organizations, was deregistered in October 2016 by the Burundian authorities on accusations of “tarnishing the image of the country” and “sowing hatred and division among the Burundian population”.