Burundi rights chief trial opens

2014-07-05 07:25

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Bujumbura - The trial of one of Burundi's most respected human rights activists opened on Friday on charges of "endangering" national security that could see him jailed for five years.

Around 2 000 supporters gathered at the court singing songs and shouting in support of Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, president of the rights group Aprodeh, who was arrested in May.

Mbonimpa, awarded the International Red Cross' highest decoration, The Henry Dunant Medal, for his commitment to human rights, has campaigned for years against a series of killings of opposition members in the volatile nation.

"Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa endangered the domestic and external security of the country," prosecutor Arcade Nimbona told the court, reading the charge sheet, which also included charges of libel.

Mbonimpa, who turned up at the court under heavy guard, is accused of speaking on an independent radio in May criticising what he said was the paramilitary training of members of the youth wing of the ruling party in neighbouring eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the distribution of weapons to them.

Prosecutors described them as "very serious offences".

At times, the shouts from supporters surrounding the court drowned out those speaking inside, according to an AFP journalist.

Burundi is growing increasingly tense in the run-up to a presidential election in 2015.

Mbonimpa was arrested after a leaked UN report that claimed the government was arming young supporters ahead of elections.

The government fiercely denied the allegations and ordered a top UN official out of the country.

Burundi is still healing from decades of civil war but is growing increasingly tense in the run-up to the polls, when President Pierre Nkurunziza is set to campaign for a third term in office despite a two-term constitutional limit.

Lawyers for 65-year-old Mbonimpa filed a plea for his release on bail due to ill health and age.

Over a dozen diplomats including from the United States, France, Belgium, the United Nations and the European Union crammed into the courtroom.

"This is unacceptable," one of his angry supporters said. "It is as if the authorities do not want to hear his arguments."

Read more on:    pierre nkurunziza  |  burundi  |  east africa

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