Burundi schoolgirls jailed for doodling on president’s photo

Three girls are accused of defacing photographs of President Pierre Nkurunziza, above, in textbooks and could face up to five years in prison if found guilty. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2019
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Burundi schoolgirls jailed for doodling on president’s photo

  • Judges said the three girls should be ‘prosecuted for contempt of the head of state’
  • The girls are accused of defacing photographs of Nkurunziza in five textbooks belonging to their school

NAIROBI: Three teenage schoolgirls in Burundi have been sent to prison to await trial for scribbling on a picture of President Pierre Nkurunziza in textbooks, activists said Thursday.
The girls, aged 15, 16 and 17, face up to five years in prison for insulting the head of state if found guilty.
Judges said the three girls should be “prosecuted for contempt of the head of state,” and ordered them to a juvenile section of a prison in the north of Burundi at Ngozi to await trial, said FENADEB, a civil society umbrella group of 48 organizations.
The trio has been in custody since March 12, when they were arrested with three other schoolgirls and a 13-year old boy. The boy was released immediately because he was below the age of criminal responsibility, while the three girls were released without charge.
The girls are accused of defacing photographs of Nkurunziza in five textbooks belonging to their school, but teachers pointed out that the books are shared among all the pupils as there are not enough for everyone to have their own.
A judicial source, who called the case “very sensitive” and said it was overseen directly by the Attorney General, reported that the girls arrived at the prison on Wednesday afternoon.
It was not clear when they might face trial, but the father of one of the girls said they were already “too scared to eat,” according to Lewis Mudge, from Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In 2016, several schoolchildren were handed prison sentences for similar scribbles on the president’s face, and hundreds of pupils expelled, sparking an international outcry.
Burundi has been in turmoil since Nkurunziza in April 2015 sought a fiercely-contested third term in office.
The violence has claimed at least 1,200 lives and displaced more than 400,000 people between April 2015 and May 2017, according to estimates by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has opened an investigation.
“With so many real crimes being committed in Burundi, it’s tragic that children are the ones being prosecuted for harmless scribbles,” HRW’s Mudge added.
“Authorities should focus on holding perpetrators of serious rights violations to account instead of jailing schoolchildren for doodles.”


Communist rebel ambush kills six Philippine troops

Updated 23 April 2019
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Communist rebel ambush kills six Philippine troops

  • Members of the New People’s Army detonated bombs in a pre-dawn ambush of soldiers
  • The 4,000-strong NPA has waged a guerrilla campaign that has killed up to 40,000 people since 1969

MANILA: Communist insurgents killed six Philippine soldiers and wounded six others on Tuesday, the military said, in one of the deadliest recent attacks in the country’s 50-year-old Maoist insurgency.
Members of the New People’s Army (NPA) detonated bombs in a pre-dawn ambush of soldiers marching through a mountainous area of central Samar island, triggering a four-hour firefight.
“Our troops had received a report that NPA forces were extorting money from residents and so they went there to take action,” said regional military spokesman Captain Reynaldo Aragones.
Rebel casualties had not been determined, but Col. Ramon Zagala confirmed the soldiers’ deaths to AFP.
The 4,000-strong NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has waged a guerrilla campaign that has killed up to 40,000 people since 1969.
It marked the 50th anniversary of its founding in March with an assault on a police station that killed three rebels and wounded two police officers.
NPA units rarely engage large military units in big firefights, preferring to target poorly equipped provincial police forces or isolated military or paramilitary detachments.
Tuesday’s attack was among the deadliest launched by the NPA since mid-2017, when President Rodrigo Duterte called off peace talks with the now 50-year-old insurgency.
That decision followed a series of NPA attacks that killed six police officers and wounded five of the president’s military bodyguards.
Decades of peace efforts have come to naught, despite a burst of optimism when Duterte was elected.
Talks with his government seemed to initially make progress, but then fell apart amid name-calling and threats from both sides.
Various attempts to revive the peace process have continued despite Duterte declaring the effort finished in 2017.
Duterte branded the talks dead yet again last month, saying the communists “can maybe talk to the next president of this republic one day.”