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Burundi: Police threaten to arrest opponents of constitutional reform

Burundian police threaten to arrest opponents of constitutional reform (addressing whether President Nkurunziza can remain in office until 2034) who engage in early campaigning

14 févr. 18h59 UTC
TIMEFRAME expected from 14/2/2018, 12h00 until 18/2/2018, 11h59 (Africa/Bujumbura). COUNTRY/REGION Burundi
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Event

On Tuesday, February 13, Burundian police threatened to arrest individuals who campaign too early against proposed constitutional amendments (which, if passed, would allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to remain in power until 2034) and disturb public order. Though the Burundian government began promoting the referendum in December 2017, specifically campaigning for either the "yes" or "no" side is officially prohibited until two weeks before the vote takes place in May 2018. Political demonstrations, clashes between opposition protesters and security forces, and additional arrests are possible in advance of the upcoming associated constitutional referendum in May.

Context

The Burundian police publicly announced that it would arrest those accused of disturbing public order after four students and a teacher were arrested in Ngozi province on February 12 and February 13 for campaigning door to door against the proposed constitutional amendments. At least 50 opposition members have been arrested thus far for encouraging individuals to vote "no" to the proposed revisions before the official campaign period begins two weeks before the vote. For its part, the political opposition has claimed that Burundian authorities have set "double standards" vis-à-vis campaigning for the referendum, as multiple government ministers have already publicly vocalized their support for the amendments as of mid-February.

Political violence persists throughout Burundi in the aftermath of the country's contested July 2015 elections. Nkurunziza was elected to a controversial third term in 2015 even though Burundian law stipulates a maximum presidential tenure of two five-year terms. While the country appears to be experiencing a period of relative calm (certainly in comparison to the violent outbreaks witnessed in 2015 and 2016), the situation remains worrisome, particularly in Bujumbura, where the risk of politically motivated outbreaks of violence remains.

Advice

Individuals present in Burundi should avoid discussing sensitive political topics in public spaces, avoid all public gatherings and demonstrations, especially those with no visible security presence, and maintain a high level of vigilance at all times. Be extremely vigilant in crowded places such as churches, markets, cafés, and bus stations.

In general, individuals in Burundi - especially in Bujumbura - are advised to remain vigilant due to a significant risk of criminal activity. Avoid traveling by foot after nightfall, keep only small amounts of cash on hand, park in a secured parking lot close to one's destination, and drive with doors locked, windows rolled up, and with valuables hidden from sight. Keep a phone charged and on hand at all times.

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