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Burundi: Leading human rights defender shot

In this undated photo, prominent Burundian rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, center-right, visits with prisoners in Bujumbura
In this undated photo, prominent Burundian rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, center-right, visits with prisoners in Bujumbura

AP Photo

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 3 August 2015.

A leading Burundian human rights defender, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, was shot and injured on the evening of August 3, 2015, in the capital, Bujumbura, Human Rights Watch said today. He is in intensive care.

“We are shocked at this blatant attack on one of Burundi's most prominent and respected activists,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Burundian authorities should take immediate steps to secure Mbonimpa's safety and protection.”

On the morning of August 3, rumors that Mbonimpa had been shot or arrested were circulating on social media. These rumors were unfounded at the time: Mbonimpa spent the day working, as usual.

At about 5:30 p.m., after he left his office and was in his car, an unidentified man on a motorbike shot into the car, injuring him in his face and neck. Mbonimpa was rushed to the hospital.

Mbonimpa, 67, is president of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), one of the main human rights organizations in Burundi. He was arrested in May 2014 and charged with endangering state security, in connection with remarks he had made on the radio. After falling seriously ill, he was provisionally released on medical grounds, but the charges against him have not been dropped.

The government crackdown against opponents and critics that intensified in April 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a controversial third term has led most Burundian human rights defenders and journalists to leave the country for their security. Mbonimpa is one of the few who chose to remain in Burundi.

The attack on Mbonimpa took place just one day after the assassination in Bujumbura of the former head of the intelligence services, Adolphe Nshimirimana, a powerful figure and ally of Nkurunziza.

Both events are likely to further inflame tensions in a rapidly deteriorating political and security environment, Human Rights Watch said. Nkurunziza won July elections that most opposition parties boycotted, following weeks of demonstrations against Nkurunziza's third term bid, brutal suppression of protests by the police, and clashes between police and demonstrators.

“The Burundian government should act promptly to prevent these two shocking attacks from triggering further violence,” Bekele said. “The president and senior officials should publicly appeal for calm, warn against revenge attacks, and ensure that those responsible for these acts are brought to justice without delay.”

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