Burundi: Repression Linked to Presidential-Term Vote
But confirming details of abuse has become more difficult in the climate of fear engulfing the country. Since 2015, when the current crisis began as Nkurunziza announced his bid for a controversial third term, the country’s once vibrant independent media and nongovernmental organizations have been decimated, and more than 397,000 people have fled the country.
The new Human Rights Watch findings are based on interviews in February and March with more than 30 victims, witnesses, and others, who described a range of abuses in seven of Burundi’s 18 provinces.
A 20-year-old farmer and member of the FNL described what happened when he had a drink with a friend at a bar in Kirundo province in January: “We both agreed that we were going to vote against changing the constitution. An Imbonerakure heard us and he called his friends… Six Imbonerakure then came to the bar and beat us with sticks before taking us to the jail.” The man was detained for 15 days.
Under the Burundian electoral code, campaigning for the referendum begins 16 days before the referendum. The government has been clear that it will seek out and punish anyone perceived as campaigning against the referendum. In a speech on December 12, Nkurunziza warned that those who dared to “sabotage” the project to revise the constitution “by word or action” would be crossing a “red line.”
On February 13, the spokesman for the Public Security Ministry, Pierre Nkurikiye, said publicly, in reference to people arrested for allegedly encouraging others not to register, “This is a warning, a warning to anyone who by his actions or words is hindering this process … he will be immediately apprehended by the police, and brought to justice.”