Nairobi — Burundian authorities have detained and charged one of the country's leading human rights activists on questionable grounds.
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, 66, president of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues, APRODH), was arrested in the capital, Bujumbura, at about midnight on the night of May 15, 2014.
After prosecutors questioned him on May 16, Mbonimpa was charged with inciting public disobedience and endangering internal and external state security for remarks made on the radio 10 days earlier.
"We are deeply concerned that Mbonimpa's arrest was to harass him for his important human rights work," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The supposed charges don't amount to a credible criminal offense, and he should be freed immediately."
The charges relate to Mbonimpa's allegations on the Burundian radio station Radio publique africaine(RPA) on May 6 that young Burundians were being armed, given military uniforms, and sent for military training in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm these allegations.
After the broadcast, Mbonimpa received summonses to appear before the judicial police on May 7 and 12 to answer questions about his statements. He appeared for both. He was summoned a third time, to appear on May 14, but that session was postponed to May 19. In the meantime, Mbonimpa was arrested on May 15.
The Burundian authorities should release Mbonimpa immediately, Human Rights Watch said. If necessary, the police or prosecutor's office can pursue their investigations and legal processes while he is free.
Mbonimpa is one of Burundi's longest serving and most active human rights defenders. He and other Burundian civil society activists and independent journalists have been repeatedly harassed, intimidated, threatened, and summoned for questioning by the authorities.
Governments have a special obligation to protect human rights defenders against risks that they may face as a direct result of their work. In 1998, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which provides that individuals and associations have the right "to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms."
A former police officer, and a former prisoner himself, Mbonimpa founded APRODH to defend the rights of prisoners and other victims of human rights abuse. The organization works across the country, documenting human rights abuses, campaigning for justice, and promoting human rights. Mbonimpa has received several international awards for his human rights work.