Burundi’s Supreme Court has quashed a human rights activist’s 32-year prison sentence, ordering his appeals trial to be reheard, according to a ruling seen by AFP Monday.
Germain Rukuki was given one of the heaviest sentences ever handed down to a rights activist in Burundi for taking part in protests against former president Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial third term bid in 2015.
The ruling was upheld in an appeals court in 2019.
However the Supreme Court ruled on June 30, in a judgement only released to his lawyers last week, that as Rukiki had never appeared in court, the appeals verdict was invalid.
“The appeals judge convicted an accused who never appeared in a public hearing and without hearing his defence,” the ruling said.
No date has been set for the new appeals process and Rukuki remains in prison.
Burundi plunged into political crisis in 2015 and thousands were arrested on the same charge of taking part in an “insurrectional movement” for protesting Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, which he won.
“It is a victory for his lawyers which shows that the appeals court did not give an independent ruling… we hope that this time they will put an end to Germain Rukiki’s nightmare,” said Clement Boursin, Africa head of the Christian rights organisation ACAT for which Rukiki was financial director.
Most members of civil society fled into exile and local rights NGOs have been banned since the 2015 crisis.
Anschaire Nikoyagize, exiled leader of the Iteka rights organisation, said the ruling was “a sign of opening up” under new President Evariste Ndayishimiye who took office in June after Nkurunziza’s sudden death.
“The new government wants to show the international community that things are changing,” he said.