By Millicent Zighe
Cases of wrongful detentions in Burundi have surged in the recent past resulting to congestion in the country’s 11 prison facilities amid concerns of right violations.
A Burundi-based rights group – The Action for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) – have also cited cases of abuses in prison facilities perpetrated by a government-backed youth militia – Imbonerakure – and security services.
Most prisoners are languishing in prisons without standing trial. The lack of prisons in eight of the 18 provinces in the country has further compounded the crisis of overcrowding.
One case documented by ACAT involves Niyondongozi Fabrice, Eloge and Nkurunzinza Leonidas: the three detainees were isolated from other inmates on July 6, 2019 after being suspected of holding meetings to incite other prisoners to revolt. However, no evidence was provided to back up the allegations levelled against them.
On July 10, 2019, three prisoners allied to the ruling party National Council for the Defense of Democracy –Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) illegally searched a prisoner named Muhizi Rogers. Sources revealed to ACAT that the orders were given by security committee member named Abdoul. The victim was accused of holding a huge sum of money that Abdoul suspected was sent to him by the President of Movement for Solidarity and Democratic (MSD) party, Alexis Sinduhije.
Nsabimana Radjabu, an inmate from Rumonge Prison was arrested and put under the scrutiny of the Imbonerakure, who were masquerading as a safety committee on July 17, 2019. Radjabu was accused of holding a meeting with the football team without consulting the Imbonerakure. Fortunately, he was released the following day.
In Muravya prison, two mentally challenged inmates were imprisoned for months without being taken to hospital for specialized treatment. The mental condition of one of the inmates ended up deteriorating. However instead of taking the prisoner to a psychiatric facility, the police transferred him to another correction facility.
Gitega Prison has also been accused of denying inmates, who have been referred by the prison health center, their right to see ophthalmologists and dentists, claiming that these are not life-threatening conditions.
The report by human rights monitors also documented instances where prison officials have refused to implement judicial decisions rendered during hearings.
In Gitega Prison, for example, prison authorities continued to hold a prisoner named Nkengurutse Jean Claude even after he was acquitted by the High Court of Muha.
On July 18, 2019 Burundi Minister of Justice Aimee Laurentine Kanyana released 69 prisoners as the country commemorated Mandela Day. What was puzzling is that none of the detainees charged with political crimes were pardoned, including those who were acquitted.
The same was replicated in Rumonge where among the 60 prisoners released none accused of fueling political tension was set free.