[New York/Washington D.C., 20 May 2020] Leading up to today’s general elections in Burundi, national authorities and members of the ruling party have employed tactics of fear and violence to stifle and repress its political opposition. Most recently arresting former human rights defender and current political candidate Cathy Kezimana in retaliation for a campaign speech she gave criticizing the human rights record of the State.
“We are incredibly concerned by the heightened levels of violence and repression carried out by members of Burundi’s ruling party against their political opponents” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Free elections and freedom of speech are cornerstones of any functioning democracy. By harassing, arresting and detaining it’s political opponents, Burundian authorities are preventing the general elections to be carried out freely and fairly. We join Burundian civil society and the international community, in calling for the immediate release of CNL candidate Cathy Kezimana and a cease to the harassment and violence against members of the opposition.”
On March 5th while on her campaign tour in Southern Burundi, Kezimana’s car was intercepted by a police convoy led by the provincial commissioner of Bujumbura, who is a member of the ruling party. The police arrested Kezimana and took her to the Bujumbura prosecutor's office where a judge interrogated her for 15 minutes before sending her to Mpimba prison where she is currently detained. Kezimana is an outspoken member of the opposition party, the National Freedom Council (CNL) and a current parliamentary candidate in the legislative elections for the province of Bujumbura. She was in second place in the electoral race at the time of her arrest. The authorities have accused her of making remarks that “violate the honor” of the regime during a campaign speech where she mentions illegal detentions, and Burundians who have been forced into exile by the regime. According to her lawyers, Kezimana has been charged with three crimes (1) hate speech (2) public insults (3) and threats against authority. In addition, her lawyer was informed that the prosecutor’s office forwarded a list of incarcerated CNL members to be removed from the electoral list in violation of Burundi’s electoral code. Kezimana’s name is included on the list although she has not not even been brought before a judge to determine the legality of her detention - further demonstrating the political motivations behind her arrest and subsequent detention.
Further, while in custody, Cathy Kezimana’s health has greatly deteriorated but she has been denied proper medical care and visits from her family continue to be refused despite her worsening health conditions.
We call for the immediate release of Cathy Kezimana and for these baseless charges to be dropped. Further, we urge the Burundian government to cease all acts of repression of dissent and political opposition and fully respect human rights of Burundians.