• Girls scribbled over his picture in textbooks, accused of insulting the president
• Will be held in prison and put on trial; children punished before
Three Burundian schoolgirls have been arrested for scribbled over pictures of long-serving President Pierre Nkurunziza in their textbooks.
A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court Agnès Bangiricenge said on Thursday the girls were among seven schoolchildren arrested last week 200 kilometres from Bujumbura.
Four others were released.
All were all accused of insulting Nkurunziza by scribbling over images of him printed in their textbooks.
A regional court in Kirundo decided on Wednesday to detain the three girls in a prison and put them on trial, Bangiricenge said.
They could face as long as five years in prison if convicted, a judge told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“It is true that scribbling (on the president’s picture) is a punishable offence under the Burundian law. But since it was committed by teenagers, I believe this is a mitigating circumstance,” David Ninganza, a children’s rights defender working for local group SOGEPAE, told Reuters.
“Those school children are not engaged in any political fights and need no political posts. Judges have to consider all those issues.”
School children have in the past been kicked out of school for similar offences, with some jailed and released.
In 2016, 11 children were jailed on accusations of defacing a photograph of Nkurunziza in a textbook.
In the same year, more than 300 students in the capital’s Ruziba neighbourhood were sent home after being accused of defacing Nkurunziza’s image.
Hundreds of Burundians have been killed in clashes with security forces and half a million have fled abroad since Nkurunziza announced in 2015 he would run for a third term. His opponents called it a breach of the constitution. He won re-election. He has been president since 2005.
Early this month, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Burundi had forced the United Nations to shut its human rights office after 23 years.
In 2016 Burundi suspended all cooperation with the UN human rights office in Burundi after a UN report accused the Bujumbura government and its supporters of committing crimes against humanity.
Bachelet said there were still credible reports of serious human rights violations in Burundi, including arbitrary killings, forced disappearances, ill-treatment, arrests and detention, and curbs on freedom of association, expression and movement.