April 27, 2018 / 2:53 PM / in 3 months

Burundi jails rights activist for 32 years over protests: Amnesty

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A Burundian court jailed a human rights activist for 32 years late on Thursday, Amnesty International said, criticizing what it called a wrongful conviction based on fabricated charges.

Burundian government and judiciary officials were not immediately reachable for comment.

Amnesty said in a statement on Friday the charges against Germain Rukuki included “being part of an insurrection movement in 2015” during protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza.

“This conviction – built on an array of charges fabricated by the authorities - must be overturned, and Germain released immediately,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

Burundi has been gripped by a political crisis since April of that year, when Nkurunziza announced he would stand for a third term, which the opposition said violated the constitution as well as a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war.

He won a vote largely boycotted by the opposition, but protests sparked a government crackdown that has killed more than 700 people, displaced over 400,000 to neighboring countries and left the economy moribund.

Amnesty said Rukuki, head of the Njabutsa Tujane community organization and an employee of the Burundian Catholic Lawyers Association, was arrested in July 2017 over involvement in the protests.

He was charged a month later with threatening state security and “rebellion” for being an employee of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT)-Burundi, Amnesty said.

“Germain Rukuki’s wrongful conviction and shockingly excessive jail sentence violate his rights and are an insult to justice,” Magango said. “He has committed no crime, but has rather been persecuted for daring to speak out against the human rights violations in Burundi.”

Writing by George Obulutsa, Editing by William Maclean

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