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Ex-Burundi opposition MP charged with undermining state security

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A former Burundian legislator and outspoken government critic has been charged with defamation and undermining state security, his lawyer said, signalling no easing of widespread repression under new President Evariste Ndayishimiye.

Predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza’s sudden death earlier this year after 15 years in office marked by rampant human rights abuses raised hopes of Burundi reviving ties with donors and wooing investors needed to develop its moribund economy.

But there has been no turnabout from Nkurunziza’s legacy under Ndayishimiye, a retired general who took power in June, with U.N. officials saying violent state-sponsored abuses and arbitrary arrests have continued.

Former opposition lawmaker Fabien Banciryanino was detained a week ago and charged late on Thursday with undermining state security, defamation, “calumny and rebellion against institutions”, said his lawyer, Nkeringanji Christophe.

His alleged offences are linked to his previous work as an opposition MP from 2015 to July 2020, Christophe added.

As a lawmaker, Banciryanino documented alleged killings and disappearances perpetrated by state security agencies and flagged the incidents in parliamentary debates.

He also opposed a law granting a one-off payment of $500 000, a villa and a lifetime retirement salary to Nkurunziza, who was due to step down in August before he died in June.

Burundi is a widely impoverished central African country of 11.5 million people with a GDP of $3 billion, according to World Bank figures.

Nkurunziza’s rule was marked by frequent extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, rapes and arbitrary detention of critics among others.

A UN report last month said impunity for rape, murder and other abuses remained widespread in Burundi under the new government, accusing the ruling party’s youth wing of continuing to perpetrate beatings, kidnappings and sexual violence.

Ndayishimiye has promoted high-ranking military officers involved in human rights abuses and included in his cabinet two men under international sanctions for rights violations, according to the UN report.

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