The National Federation of Associations Engaged in Children's Welfare in Burundi (FENADEB) reported that another student, 13, had been immediately released because he was a minor under the age of 15.
Three students were reportedly provisionally released on Friday, March 15, but, the remaining three were kept in custody. The girls, aged 15 to 17, if found guilty, risk up to five years in prison for insulting the president. Iwacu newspaper reported that families affected were deeply distressed.
“Scribbling [on the president’s picture] is a punishable offense under the Burundian law,” according to a Reuters report. However, the age of the offenders may serve as a “mitigating circumstance” in these students’ trial.
As a teacher anonymously noted, the textbooks had not been checked for several years and are often shared by students, so it is difficult to know who marked them.
A similar episode occurred in 2016, following the controversy over the president’s third term, where high school students scribbled on textbook pictures of Nkurunziza. Authorities took this as a serious insult and expelled hundreds of students from various schools across the country. Eleven students were charged with “insulting the head of state” and “threatening state security,” although they were reportedly later cleared.
I am dismayed by continuing reports of the suspension and arrest of schoolchildren and students for having scribbled on pictures of the president in textbooks.