(Nairobi) – The Ngozi Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the conviction and five-year prison sentence for a lawyer belonging to a human rights group in Burundi was a farce by the judiciary, Human Rights Watch and five other international human rights groups announced today. Here’s what they say:
Shocking decision as appeals court sentenced attorney Tony Germain Nkina. confirmed
Six international human rights groups – Amnesty International, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Human Rights Watch, Protection International Africa, and TRIAL International – condemned the decision of the Ngozi Court of Appeal on September 29, um uphold the conviction and five-year prison sentence of Burundian attorney Tony Germain Nkina following an unfair trial.
“The Tony Germain Nkina trial was a travesty of justice,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “The appeal court’s decision to keep him in jail despite all the evidence of the unfairness of the trial makes the Burundian judicial system a mockery.”
The groups believe that Nkina, a lawyer in Kayanza Province, was arrested and sentenced for his past membership of the Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues, APRODH, until 2015 leading human rights group in Burundi.
Nkina was the representative of APRODH in Kayanza until the government suspended the organization in 2015 as part of a crackdown on independent civil society. He has not worked for APRODH or any other Burundian civil society organization in the past six years.
Nkina was arrested on October 13, 2020 in Kabarore Municipality, where he was visiting a client about his professional practice as a lawyer. In June 2021, a Kayanza court found him guilty of collaborating with armed groups – a frequent charge against alleged opponents and critics in Burundi – and sentenced him to five years in prison. His client, Apollinaire Hitimana, whom he had advised on a land dispute, was found guilty of complicity in the same offense and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The appeals court also upheld Hitimana’s conviction and verdict.
The hearing in the Ngozi Court of Appeal, originally scheduled for August 12, was postponed twice and finally held on September 20. The prosecution was unable to produce any credible evidence against Nkina and no prosecution witnesses appeared in court. Nkina and his lawyers were able to prove that he had visited Kabarore for legitimate professional reasons. Even so, the court upheld the conviction and quickly pronounced its verdict.
“Nkina’s conviction is another taint on Burundi’s human rights record at a time when the government is trying to improve its public image,” said Deprose Muchena, director of East and South Africa at Amnesty International. “If the Burundian authorities want to convince the national and international audience of the credibility of the country’s judicial system, they should drop all charges against Nkina and release him immediately.”
In the course of the ongoing dialogue between the European Union (EU) and Burundi with a view to a possible resumption of cooperation, the EU and its member states should make it clear to President Variste Ndayishimiye that his promises to respect human rights and reform the judicial system are not being taken seriously while Nkina remains in prison for his past human rights activities alone.
The targeted attacks on Nkina and his conviction and unfair trial are emblematic of the broader human rights situation in Burundi, where space for civil society and the media is severely limited, the groups said. Other governments as well as representatives and bodies of the United Nations, the African Union and other international organizations should publicly denounce Nkina’s conviction and press for his immediate release.