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(New York) -- The Burundian government should immediately release two prominent lawyers jailed in an ongoing dispute with the government, Amnesty International said today, as a national lawyers' strike continues over the jailing of one of the lawyers.
Isidore Rufikiri, head of the Bar Association, was arrested on Wednesday after speaking at a rally in the capital, Bujumbura. Burundian lawyers are on strike this week to call for the release of their colleague, Suzanne Bukuru, who was arrested July 15 on charges of "complicity in espionage" after speaking to French journalists about a case of alleged rape.
"Arresting these lawyers violates the right to freedom of expression," said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International's Africa Program director.
"The Burundian authorities must immediately release these lawyers and allow them and others to practice freely. The way they handle this will be a litmus test for the credibility of Burundi's justice system."
The prosecution summoned Rufikiri to the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, and interviewed him on charges of "insulting magistrates," apparently referring to comments he made about judicial interference at a lawyers' protest on Monday.
Following this questioning, Rufikiri was taken directly to Mpimba Central Prison.
Bukuru was also summoned by the prosecution on July 15, in relation to a case where she is representing five girls who allege they were raped by a French national living in Burundi. The accused was found guilty on Monday and sentenced to 25 years in jail and fined about $20,000 (U.S.). He is appealing the sentence.
Bukuru was questioned about having put her clients in touch with French journalists visiting Burundi before the verdict. She was charged with an unrelated and spurious offence of "complicity in espionage," which carries a life sentence and can only be applied to foreigners and in times of war.
Bukuru was immediately transferred to Mpimba Central Prison and the court will rule August 1 on whether to grant bail.
The prosecution also questioned Edras Ndikumana, a correspondent for Radio France International (RFI), about his role in putting French journalists in contact with Bukuru.
The U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers not only state that lawyers must be allowed to carry out their work "without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference" but also expressly recognizes that they are entitled to freedom of expression including "the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights."