NAIROBI – Burundi’s National Intelligence Service (SNR) has picked up a human rights activist and is holding him over an alleged breach of state security, a police source said Friday.
Germain Rukuki, who has long worked for civil associations, was arrested by agents of the feared SNR in the northern Ngagara district of Bujumbura on Thursday morning after a dawn sweep by dozens of police, according to witnesses.
“Germain Rukuki was arrested at his home in Ngagara, he is detained over a breach of internal state security,” police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye posted in a tweet, without further details.
“We denounce the arrest of this human rights activist by the presidential police of the SNR, who behave like a state within the state,” a lawyer and leader of civil society in exile, Armel Niyongere, told AFP on Friday.
Rukuki is the financial manager of the Association of Catholic Jurists of Burundi (AJCB), one of the few independent NGOs still functioning in the small central African country, where a dozen others have been banned or suspended.
President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial decision in April 2015 to run for a third term in office caused a political crisis marked by violence that has claimed between 500 and 2,000 lives, according to UN and NGO sources. Dozens of opposition activists have been forced into exile.
Nkurunziza won his third term in an election in July 2015 that was boycotted by the opposition, which considered the vote a violation of the constitution.
The SNR, which answers directly to the head of state, is today presented by UN agencies and local and international NGOs as an armed tool of repression, accused of numerous cases of extrajudicial executions, torture and forced disappearances.
“What’s going on is the intimidation and persecution of the independent organisations still active on the ground. There are three members of another organisation who have been languishing in prison for almost a month,” Niyongere said, referring to the PARCEM movement (Word and Action for the Awakening of Consciousness and Evolution of Mentalities).
Most of the 9,600 people who were known to be in Burundi’s prisons at the end of June are members or supporters of the opposition accused of state security offences, according to one of the main local rights organisations, Aprodeh, whose senior staff are in exile.