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Burundian human rights defender arbitrarily arrested, dubiously charged

Monday, June 2, 2014
Her Excellency Spéciose Nzeyimana
Ambassador of Burundi to Canada
340 Albert Street, Suite 1301
Ottawa, Ontario K1R 7Y6

May 30, 2014

Dear Ambassador,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE condemns the arbitrary arrest of Burundi human rights defender Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa on May 16, 2014. The dubious charges leveled against him include spreading false rumours to incite an uprising, and threatening external security, in relation to comments he made over the radio. Mbonimpa appeared on Burundian radio station Radio Publique Africaine on May 6 and stated that members of the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy, specifically the Forces for the Defense of Democracy Youth Wing, were receiving military training in Democratic Republic of Congo. Mbonimpa has since produced a photograph supporting his claim. Mbonimpa could face up to eight years in prison if he is found guilty.

Mbonimpa has been wrongly accused before; from 1994-1996, he was wrongfully imprisoned for illegal possession of a firearm. This experience motivated him to create the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), of which he is currently president. APRODH has become a vital resource to prisoners and victims of human rights violations in Burundi, and Mbonimpa has received international recognition for his work documenting instances of torture in the country's prisons.

The evidence of hostility towards freedom of expression in Burundi is not limited to Mbonimpa's case. Human rights advocates and media workers, particularly those who speak out against government corruption and misconduct, are often harassed and threatened in Burundi. Due to rising political tensions this past year, the government has suspended opposition political parties, arrested many peaceful protestors, and the government has tried to amend the Constitution in order to extend its term in power.

CJFE calls for the immediate release of Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa and for the baseless charges against him to be dropped. More generally, it is deeply problematic that human rights defenders and journalists in Burundi currently live in fear of government persecution; meaningful action must be taken to ensure that these agents of civil society can conduct their crucial work safely.

We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Cc: Mr. David Angell, Ambassador designate of Canada to Burundi
The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs

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