By Waceke Njoroge
Amnesty International has launched a second Urgent Action in as many months in its bid to get jailed Burundi lawyer Tony Germain Nkina released.
The human rights group’s latest action was prompted by the Burundi Court of Appeal’s September 29, 2021 upholding of Nkina’s conviction and five-year prison sentence.
Amnesty’s Urgent Action campaign encourages its community of volunteers to flood the mailboxes, inboxes, phones, and social media of authorities in an attempt to get action on a person in imminent danger of human rights violations.
Volunteers have been asked to either write their own message or send a copy of a model letter prepared by Amnesty and addressed to Jeanine Nibizi, the Burundi Minister of Justice.
The letter asks the minister to “instruct the Prosecutor General of the Republic to ensure that Tony Germain Nkina is immediately and unconditionally released and that all the charges against him are immediately dropped”.
It urges Nibizi to ensure that he has access to his lawyers and family, and is protected from torture and other ill-treatment.
Nkina was arrested on October 13, 2020 while visiting a client in Kabarore village in Kayanza, northern Burundi, to advise him on a land dispute. He was charged with endangering internal state security and was on June 15, 2021 convicted of “collaborating with rebels who attacked Burundi”. The RED-Tabara (Resistance for the Rule of Law) rebel group had attacked the region earlier that month. The lawyer was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of one million Burundian francs.
His client was also convicted of the same offence and sent to jail for two-and-a-half years. The sentence was also upheld on appeal.
Amnesty said the lawyer happened to be in the area at a time of tension when RED-Tabara struck, killing and abducting several people in the province. He was accused of working with the group. The authorities also claimed that he travelled to Rwanda to pass information to Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the president of Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues – APRODH (Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons). The human rights group claimed that the prosecutor did not provide any evidence to support the allegations.
The government’s actions have elicited protests from human rights defenders. Six international human rights groups – the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, DefendDefenders, Human Rights Watch, Protection International Africa, TRIAL International, and Amnesty International – condemned the decision of the Court of Appeal of Ngozi to uphold the conviction and five-year prison sentence “following an unfair trial”.
“Tony Germain Nkina’s trial was a travesty of justice,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The decision by the Court of Appeal to keep him in prison, despite all the evidence about the unfairness of the trial, makes a mockery of the Burundian justice system.”
Burundi has over the years been in the spotlight for human rights violations. Many journalists and members of civil society suspected to oppose the government have been disappeared or killed. Civil society groups and media organisations were targeted in the government’s repression campaign of 2015. They were suspended and fled into exile to escape threats to their lives.
Human rights activists have been arrested for their advocacy work. The Burundian government has continued to view human rights work with suspicion despite the change in regime after President Pierre Nkurunziza died in 2020.