Amnesty International on Wednesday asked Burundian authorities to quash human rights activist Germain Rukuki’s conviction “on spurious charges and immediately and unconditionally release him from prison, where he is being detained simply for his work defending human rights.” The human rights organization’s comments came as a new appeal hearing on his case gets underway.
“Germain Rukuki is serving a 32-year prison term on baseless charges of ‘rebellion’ and ‘threatening state security’, when all he did was stand up for human rights,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.“He must be immediately and unconditionally released, and his conviction overturned.”
The Appeal Court of Ntahangwa is holding today’s hearing at Ngozi Prison, where Rukuki has spent almost four years behind bars.
In June 2020, Burundi’s Supreme Court overturned an earlier Appeal Court decision that had confirmed Rukuki’s sentence, and ordered the Appeal Court to reconsider the appeal with a new panel of judges. It cited procedural irregularities following a change of judges midway through the initial appeal proceedings.
Amnesty International said it considers Rukuki a prisoner of conscience detained solely on account of his human rights work and has campaigned for his release since he was arrested in 2017.
In its flagship Write for Rights letter-writing campaign in 2020, more than 400,000 messages were sent by people from all over the world calling for Rukuki’s release.
Rukuki joined the human rights movement when he was still a student, volunteering and later working as staff member for ACAT-Burundi, an anti-torture organization.
ACAT-Burundi was suspended in 2015 and permanently shut down in 2016 by the authorities, along with four other human rights groups that also opposed President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. Rukuki had moved to another organization at the time of his arrest, but his previous employment at ACAT-Burundi formed the basis of the charges against him.