GENEVA (9 May 2018) – UN human rights experts* are calling on the authorities in Burundi to release immediately a leading human rights worker, Germain Rukuki, who was sentenced to 32 years’ jail by the High Court of Ntahangwa for his work with civil society organisations.
Mr. Rukuki was arrested in July 2017 for his work with the organisation ACAT-Burundi – a Christian organisation which campaigns against torture. He was sentenced on 3 April 2018 when he appeared in court charged with rebellion, breach of State security, participation in an insurrectional movement and attacking the head of State, among other charges.
Many irregularities and procedural problems were reported during his trial. Among them, his lawyers had no access to the hearing, or to his file, the trial was expedited and held behind closed doors, and virtually no evidence was presented by the prosecution, except some documents he was forced to sign.
“We appeal to the authorities to annul Mr. Rukuki’s sentence and free him now. We also urge them to stop obstructing the work of civil society and allow human rights defenders to express themselves freely and without fear,” the experts said.
The sentence was passed amid a large-scale crackdown against human rights defenders in Burundi. Many of them and civil society organisations have been subjected to harassment by the authorities since 2015 when a mass movement emerged in protest against the incumbent President Nkurunziza’s attempt to secure a third term in office.
“We are extremely worried that this harsh verdict is not an isolated case. Over the past few years the witch-hunt carried out by the authorities against dissenting voices has led to many human rights defenders and journalists fleeing Burundi and dissuaded civil society from engaging in any activity,” the experts concluded.
*The UN experts: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voulé, is Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Michel Forst, is Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.