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After global pressure, Burundi frees teenage girls detained for doodling on the president’s picture

March 26, 2019 at 06:00 pm | News

Francis Akhalbey

Francis Akhalbey | Staff Writer

March 26, 2019 at 06:00 pm | News

Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza -- Photo Credit: AU UN IST Photo / Ilyas A. Abukar

The three teenage schoolgirls who were facing up to five up to five years in prison after they were arrested and detained on charges of defacing pictures of President Nkurunziza have been released.

The girls, who are all under the age of 18, were arrested on March 12 together with four other students including 3 girls and a 13-year-old boy who were later released without any charges filed against them, according to The Independent. The 3 teenagers were officially charged on Monday, March 18, with insulting President Nkurunziza.

The girls were subsequently remanded in a prison in Kirundo after the court decided to go ahead with the trial on Wednesday.

According to Reuters, the country’s minister for justice Aimée Laurentine Kanyana, confirmed to the state broadcaster RTNB the girls had been released provisionally. She, however, added that any subsequent behaviours of such nature will attract a prosecution.

“We call on parents to strengthen the education of their children. We remind children that they have to respect authorities, that the age of criminal responsibility is 15,” she said. “Next time, the justice will clamp down on such behaviors.”

The news of the girls’ release will come as a joy to many, both within and outside the country after a social media campaign was launched where users demanded their release by sharing funny edited images of the president with a #FreeOurGirls hashtag.

This is not the first time Burundian authorities have punished school children for defacing pictures of the president on their textbooks.

In 2016, 11 school children were arrested for allegedly insulting President Nkurunziza.

The students, aged between 14 and 19, were arrested and charged with scribbling Nkurunziza’s face, which was in a textbook photo that was shared among three schools in Muramvya.

Over 300 students were also expelled for defacing Nkurunziza’s picture in their textbooks that same year in a separate incident.

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