February 6, 2021
By ELOGE WILLY KANEZA
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Burundi has sentenced 34 people to life in prison after accusing them of a coup attempt against the former president, but all are living in exile.
Many of those sentenced were informed only this week of the Supreme Court’s ruling made last year and seen by The Associated Press.
The accused include a former army chief, journalists and human rights activists, and a lawyer for one of them, Dieudonne Bashirahishize, dismissed the ruling as “a political decision” and accused Burundi’s judiciary of being under the sway of the ruling party.
Burundi saw a violent crackdown on protests in 2015 after then-President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to pursue a third term that many considered unconstitutional.
One of those sentenced, Jeremie Minani, said that “I regret nothing. If I had to do it again, I would do it. I prefer to be condemned by a partisan justice than be judged by history for closing my eyes when my country was sinking.”
Burundian authorities “want to exclude these people from any kind of dialogue” as they try to reset relations with the international community under President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who took office last year, former Vice President Frederic Bamvuginyumvira told the AP. “That’s why they are making the decision public now.”
Former defense minister Cyrille Ndayirukiye and five other generals are serving life sentences in prison in Burundi after facing the same allegations. When appearing in court, Ndayirukiye had declared that he could not sit by while security forces were killing civilians.