Burundi grouping blames police for rising disappearances

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 9:58 PM

And when they get a suspect away, the terrified family members left behind just hope their relative will be held at a known jail. That'south because unofficial cells have reportedly become death chambers in the months since President Pierre Nkurunziza won a disputed third term.

Burundi grouping blames police for rising disappearances

When security executive in Burundi indicate up looking for someone, they don't even have to produce an arrest warrant. And when they get a suspect away, the terrified family members left behind just hope their relative will be held at a known jail.

That'south because unofficial cells have reportedly become death chambers in the months since President Pierre Nkurunziza won a disputed third term.

Amid the violence, in which more than four hundred people have been killed since latest April, an online network of Burundian activists is trying to bring international attention to what it says are rising incidents of people being disappeared by local police and intelligence agents, some of whom then return to extort enormous sums of money from families desperate to obtain their loved ones back.

The group, iBurundi, has nearly 11.000 followers on Twitter. Members are mostly youthful professionals including journalists, lawyers, economists and policy analysts, and also some students belong, a member told The Associated Press. He insisted on anonymity because of safety concerns.

The grouping is urging U. N. rights investigators to see into unofficial jails across Burundi where detainees are allegedly tortured and killed, he said.

"We haven't been counting all the disappearances but they no in (the) hundreds," he said. "Just in the latest two weeks, we know of twenty-six reported cases. Some of these individuals were later found to be in known jails, others are missing."

Amounts between $250 and $2.500 are demanded from families hoping to safe the freedom of a detained family member, according to the group, which in Twitter updates has been posting names of individuals believed to be lost after they were arrested by security agents.

The Burundian government has repeatedly denied it tortures and kills civilians, although Nkurunziza urged the security forces to utilize all means required to finish the violence which started a year ago when civilians took to the streets to protest his decision to serve beyond two terms. In a disarmament operation in some neighborhoods seen as anti-government, such as Musaga and Nyakabiga in the capital Bujumbura, the no of people fleeing Burundi topped 250.000 in March, according to U. N. figures.

Rights groups worry the no of disappearances and extrajudicial killings may be rising as the government tries to keep down dissenters as well as at minimum two rebel groups that have recently launched attacks. "Typically people are taken far by members of the police or intelligence services, led to unknown destinations, then number one hears anything more about them," said Carina Tertsakian, the Burundi researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Some military executive seen as near to the president have been targeted for assassination — including even the army chief, who survived a rocket attack latest year — raising the prospect of revenge attacks.

Some detainees may be held in unofficial detention centers running by the intelligence agency, known as SNR, and others may have been killed, their bodies never found, Tertsakian said. Some Burundians whose relatives have disappeared declare members of a pro-government militia grouping called the Imbonerakure are responsible in some cases.

Amnesty International reported in Jan that there were five possible mass graves on the outskirts of Bujumbura, citing satellite images, video footage and witness accounts after killings in December that were allegedly carried out by Burundian security forces.

Andre Ndimurukundo has been searching for his brother Pascal after he was picked up in Bujumbura by a known intelligence agent latest December on charges he'd participated in Str protests against Nkurunziza.

"We have been visiting all police cells since (Pascal's) arrest but without luck and we don't know whether he's still alive," said Ndimurukundo, who fled into exile. "But a mo after his arrest, we received several unusual calls from people who said our brother could be released if we paid some money, but we knew even if we paid money his captors wouldn't release him."

The lost man, who was married with four children, is presently thought to be dead.

Lambert Nigarura, a prominent lawyer and activist in Burundi, said a grouping of local lawyers has been trying to collect proof from families whose relatives disappeared in hopes of taking some Burundian government executive to the International Criminal Court.

"The biggest challenge we face is that these families are threatened not to speak out by the government," Nigarura said. "The world has let the people of Burundi down. We're working below intense threat to expose those who killed and finally face justice."

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