Eleven secondary school students in Burundi are in police custody and risk going to jail for allegedly insulting the embattled President Pierre Nkurunziza. The offence is punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine not exceeding 55 francs.
The students, aged between 14 and 19, were arrested on Friday and charged with scribbling President Nkurunziza’s face, which was in a textbook photo that was shared among three schools in Muramvya.
“The children made a serious offence. We will keep consulting judicial authorities and parents to find a solution,” Emmanuel Niyungeko, the governor of Muramvya province, told the Guardian.
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However, some parents have criticized the arrest, saying the government has no proof of who exactly scribbled the face of President Nkurunziza.
Burundi’s police force also struck back against other students who took to the streets over the weekend in protest of their fellow students’ arrest. One young protester and a taxi driver were shot and wounded last Friday, Reuters reports.
Since April 2015, Burundi has been engulfed in civil unrest fuelled by President Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, which violates the Arusha Peace Agreement upon which the current constitution is based.
The Burundian constitution stipulates that the President shall only hold office for two terms.
Although Nkurunziza’s continued stay appears to contravene both the peace agreement and the constitution, he and his supporters argue that he is eligible to rule for a third term since he was elected by parliament and not the “universal direct suffrage” as indicated in the peace agreement.
At least 400 people have died and more than 200,000 others have been displaced since the conflict broke out last year.
Despite numerous efforts by the international community to strike a peace deal between Nkurunziza and the opposition, killings are still being reported with the Burundian government accusing its neighbor Rwanda of recruiting militia to overthrow President Nkurunziza.
Since gaining independence from Belgium in 1962, Burundi has often experienced waves of violence mainly instigated by political and ethnic tensions.
In 1972, Burundi experienced one of the worst genocides to ever happen in the country after its Tutsi-dominated government slaughtered hundreds of Hutus following a political disagreement.
The situation would repeat itself in 1993, the only difference being that this time it was a Hutu-led government slaughtering Tutsi rebels, most of whom had returned from exile in Rwanda and Uganda.
President Pierre Nkurunziza is the son of a Hutu father and a Tutsi mother.