Activists, journalists in exile sentenced to life in prison in a trial clouded by secrecy


On 2nd February 2021, it was publicly announced that 34 individuals, who live in exile, were sentenced to life in prison. According to a document signed by the Supreme Court, the ruling happened on 23rd June 2020, seven months prior to the announcement. Among the individuals sentenced are journalists, civil society leaders and lawyers. In a statement, 18 Burundian organisations said the accused were not informed and proceedings occurred in secrecy. The statement further called the judgement 'a parody of justice aimed at silencing human rights defenders, namely members of human rights organisations, journalists and lawyers, for good.'

The public announcement coincided with the start of a dialogue between Burundi and the European Union (EU) to restart diplomatic relations, which had been suspended for six years. The EU had suspended aid and imposed sanctions on officials over human rights violations since 2015. 


At the end of January 2021, current president Evariste Ndayishimiye instructed Burundi's national media regulator, the Conseil national de la communication (National Communication Council - CNC) to engage with media outlets that have been subject to restrictions to 'find solutions to differences'. A few days later, on 1st February 2021, the CNC held an initial meeting with representatives of some sanctioned media outlets present in Burundi. On 22nd February 2021, the CNC lifted a ban on Bonesha, a local radio station. News outlet IWACU reported that CNC indicated, in a meeting, that they would see to the 'relevant technical services' so that the news site would be made accessible in Burundi and that the comment section would be authorised to reopen again. The IWACU site had been blocked in Burundi since October 2017.