International pressure helped free Burundi dissidents

April 21, 2007

From South African Mail and Guardian

Pressure from the international community, NGOs and civil society led to the acquittal recently of five alleged coup plotters imprisoned in Burundi in August this year. The men were arrested and charged with plotting to overthrow the government, but the accusations were widely believed to have been fabricated by elements in the government. Well-placed sources in Burundi said the judge’s decision to acquit five of the accused was a “political decision due to international pressure.”…

…Had it not been for his lawyer’s rapid public denouncement of the torture, which led to a visit from the minister of human rights, who acknowledged the torture, Niyonzima believes that he and the other alleged coup plotters would be dead.

“In terms of the law we were innocent, but in terms of the political will, we were the enemies,” says Niyonzima.

He believes that they owe their liberty not to the court system but to the pressure applied to the government by civil society, human rights organisations, the European Union and other foreign donors.

“We will lodge a complaint on an international level,” says Niyonzima.

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