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Critics silenced; network of 146 NGOs banned

Burundian authorities outlawed a network of 146 civil society organisations on 23 November, following weeks of intimidation and threats to civil society activists who were demanding accountability for killings in 2009, report Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) in a joint statement.

The Interior Minister annulled the legal registration of the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC), which represents the 146 Burundian civil society associations.

"Burundi's ban... is a frontal assault on freedom of association," said Human Rights Watch. "This is a brazen attempt to silence Burundi's vibrant civil society." It comes at a time when the country is preparing for presidential elections.

FORSC has brought together civil society organisations for numerous campaigns on issues ranging from transitional justice to election monitoring. This year, the Forum called for thorough investigations into the killings of Ernest Manirumva, vice president of an anti-corruption organisation, and Salvator Nsabiriho. In both killings, witnesses said state agents were involved.

On 7 November, Forum representative Pacifique Nininahazwe issued a statement calling on President Pierre Nkurunziza to react to the murders. The Interior Minister summoned FORSC and other organisations on 10 November and threatened to punish them.

The same day, Nininahazwe and Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, president of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), received death threats from individuals linked to intelligence services.

The week before the ordinance was signed, the two activists received death threats again and were placed under surveillance.

"Banning an organisation several days after it speaks out against threats - despite the government's attempts to couch the ban in formal legal terms - raises concerns that the government's goal is to silence critics," said EHAHRDP. "Rather than abolish civil society groups, it should engage in a productive dialogue with them to improve conditions for all Burundians."

A culture of impunity thrives in Burundi, with arbitrary arrests and detentions, reports the EHAHRDP. Government critics are summoned for interrogation or imprisoned; journalists have had their work confiscated and been detained and attacked. As well, opposition political groups face constraints on their work and abuse.

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