Burundi election campaigns kick-off amid COVID-19, harassment and tension

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Political campaigning ahead of the May 20 presidential elections officially kicked off in Burundi on Friday amid COVID-19 pandemic and continued intimidation of people by the Imbonerakure youth wing of the ruling party, the National Council for Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD).

“Fleeing refugees consistently told us they had been harassed by the Imbonerakure youth because of their real or perceived opposition; they were under intense surveillance and were threatened when they did not attend meetings organized by the ruling party,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

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Members of the main opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (CNL) have also been repeatedly threatened, attacked and arrested, or even killed because of their political affiliation. In the past year, organizations and media houses that would normally have provided independent reporting have been closed or silenced.

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For example, the UN Human Rights office was closed in February 2019. Radio services by both the BBC and VOA have been barred from broadcasting in the country, and most independent local media and human rights organizations have also been closed down – with many of their employees fleeing the country. The few brave human rights defenders and journalists still working in the country face relentless harassment and intimidation, including death threats and trumped up criminal charges.

“Political space in Burundi is extremely tense, and private institutions taking proactive preventive measures against COVID-19 have been threatened with sanctions. With so much at stake, respect for Burundians’ human rights should be front and centre as critical decisions are made in this election period,” said Deprose Muchena

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