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(Nairobi) – Human Rights Watch today released a short video about leading Burundian human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who has been in prison since May 2014.

Mbonimpa, 66, is the president of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues, APRODH), one of the main human rights groups in Burundi. He was arrested on May 15 after speaking on the radio about allegations that young Burundians were being armed and given military training in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Pierre Claver Mbonimpa should be considered an asset to Burundi, not a threat,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director. “The Burundian authorities should drop all charges against him and free him.”

He was charged with endangering state security and using false documents. The court turned down his lawyers’ requests for his provisional release on the grounds of old age and ill-health. He remains in prison awaiting trial.

Human Rights Watch does not consider the charges against Mbonimpa to amount to a credible criminal offense and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

Mbonimpa’s case is very significant in Burundi. He has earned huge public respect and admiration, as illustrated in the video by the large crowds of supporters at his first court appearance. He is also well-known outside Burundi and has received international awards in recognition of his work to defend the rights of the most vulnerable.

Mbonimpa’s arrest is part of a broader government crackdown against perceived critics and opponents with elections planned for 2015. Other activists, as well as independent journalists and members of opposition parties, have been repeatedly harassed, intimidated, and prevented from carrying out their activities. 

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