Eleven Burundian students were detained and charged on Friday for damaging pictures of President Pierre Nkurunziza in their textbooks, while three other people were injured as police fired bullets during a protest against the arrest of the students.
This comes a day after it was reported that more than 300 Grade 8 students (between 14 and 16 years) were suspended from a neighbouring school for the same offence.
In some books, the eyes of the president had holes in them while in others, the picture had doodles and derogatory inscriptions drawn on them.
A source, who requested anonymity, told AFP that the prosecutor of Muramvya in central Burundi “decided to detain the eleven students for insulting the head of state.”
“These children, 6 girls and 5 boys all over the age of 14, were jailed at the Muramvya Central Prison in the afternoon,” he added.
Several witnesses have confirmed the information including a parent who saw her daughter dragged to the prison, and a lawyer who was assisting one of the students, aged between 14 and 19 years.
Officers from the National Intelligence Service were reported to have arrested the students who were also being accused by their school management of damaging the president’s picture in their books and that of several schools in Muramvya and its surroundings.
A dozen other students who were less than 14 years, per the penal code of Burundi, were released after they were arrested Friday morning, according to police sources.
Immediately after the first arrests were conducted at the Muramvya community school, hundreds of high school students marched to the city center demanding the release of their peers, according to several witnesses who said the security forces opened fire on the protesters.
Burundi police shoot at students protesting against colleagues' arrest https://t.co/hMjPqwVGlg— Reuters World (@ReutersWorld) June 3, 2016
“Police of the Burundian secret services then opened fire to disperse the protesters, seriously injuring two students and a biker passing by,” says a witness.
Parents of the students are terrified about the arrests as they express the innocence of their children.
“Our children are innocent because these books were used collectively, nobody knows exactly who did it. But that’s the Burundi today, a country of terror and a cult of personality,” a parent said.
“What is happening is terrifying. I think in all Burundi schools there are students who have made such scribbles on the face of Nkurunziza unconsciously. Are we going to hunt everyone of them?” asked another parent who also requested anonymity.
Insulting the head of state is punishable by five to 10 years in prison, according to the Burundian penal code.