Nairobi – Burundian intelligence agents have arrested five human rights campaigners, including four as they were about to fly to Uganda, a rights group and a police source said on Wednesday.
Four were detained on Tuesday by National Intelligence Service (SNR) agents at the airport in the economic capital Bujumbura, Anschaire Nikoyagize, the head of the Ligue Iteka rights group, told AFP.
They were named as Sonia Ndikumasabo, president of the Association of Women Lawyers of Burundi, and its coordinator Marie Emerusabe, as well as Sylvana Inamahoro, executive director of the Association for Peace and the Promotion of Human Rights (APDH) and its legal representative Audace Havyarimana.
Another APDH member, Prosper Runyange, was arrested the same day in the northern town of Ngozi and transferred on Wednesday to SNR headquarters, Nikoyagize said.
“It is the first time so many human rights activists have been arrested at the same time,” he said, adding: “For the moment no one knows the reason for these arrests.”
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The Burundian authorities declined to make any comment on the arrests, which were confirmed to AFP by a senior police officer.
Ligue Iteka continues to document numerous rights abuses in Burundi, including murders, arbitrary arrests, torture and sexual violations.
Last month, Burundian journalist Floriane Irangabiye was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “undermining the integrity of the national territory”.
“The government’s hostility toward Burundi’s once thriving civil society and media has continued despite the election of a new president (Evariste Ndayishimiye) in May 2020,” Human Rights Watch said in a report earlier this month about the journalist’s arrest.
Despite ongoing concerns about the rights situation, both the European Union and the United States last year resumed aid flows to the deeply impoverished landlocked nation, citing political progress under Ndayishimiye.
Burundi had been under US and EU sanctions over a bloody crisis that erupted in 2015 when former president Pierre Nkurunziza made a controversial bid for a third term in office.
The turmoil claimed the lives of 1 200 Burundians and sent 400 000 fleeing the country.
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