Pro-government group seeks to incite acts of rape and violence against opposition in Burundi
Burundi currently ranks 160 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Border’s (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index, dropping four spots from its position on the 2016 Index. The situation for freedom of expression has continued to deteriorate over this period. After an attempted coup in May 2015, most independent radio stations were closed and replaced with government-run media outlets. Dozens of journalists fled the country, and RSF has noted that the authorities routinely investigate and interrogate news editors over controversial content.
Slogans and rhetoric used by government-backed groups with the intent to harm or discriminate are of particular concern in the country. Such incidents occur often and the following are several recent examples:
On 1st April 2017, approximately 2,500 members of Imbonerakure - a pro-government youth militia - are reported to have marched in the northern province of Kayanza under slogans to incite acts of rape and violence against opponents. Similar incidents were reported in April in the eastern province of Ruyigi and in Gaharo in the southern province of Rutana.
On 7th April, the President of the Senate reportedly attempted to incite people to violence in Makamba, specifically calling for all suspected rebels to be “silently collected”.
The government of Burundi has taken measures to control how civil society operates in the country, and several organisations have had their operations suspended. In addition, a number of opposition groups have been banned. A bill passed by the National Assembly in December 2016 requires local NGOs to obtain permission from the Interior Minister for any activity, as well as to transfer their funds from foreign donors through the central bank.
On 14th April 2017, the major opposition political party, Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD), was forced to suspend its activities in its offices for a period of six months. Burundi’s Home Affairs and Civic Education Ministry declared that the decision to suspend MSD was in response to the party's violation of the country’s constitution and the law on political parties. It also claimed the party was planning to create a rebel group. However, independent sources say the government wanted to marginalise and restrict the party. The MSD is seen as a strong opposition group that attracts a number of youth and has active branches across the country. MSD was previously suspended for four months in March 2014 following violent clashes between the party's youth membership and police officers at the MSD headquarters in the capital, Bujumbura.