The trial of members of Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD), accused of rebellion, scheduled for 27 October was postponed once again to 1 December 2014. The defense worries about the lack of will on the part of the appeal court.-By Lorraine Josiane Manishatse
On Monday 27 October, at 9am, crowds were gathered at the gates of Mpimba Prison. Journalists, MSD members and civil society-leaders came to attend the appeal hearing of MSD members arrested on 8 March 2014. It proved difficult to get authorization to enter the prison. “Today is special, only people who come to attend the trial are authorized to get in”, says a policeman at the Mpimba prison entry. The audience consisted of about 200 members of MSD, international diplomats and Burundian civil society representatives.
Once inside, security was tight. After a long discussion between journalists and policemen, the Prison Director finally authorized the use of cameras and film equipment. But there wasn’t much to film. After only 35 minutes, the meeting was adjourned.
“This shows that there is no interest in progressing with this case. They want to block this dossier”, complains Dieudonné Bashirahishize, speaking on behalf of the defense lawyers. At the beginning the dossier was rushed to a verdict, but now progress is slow and unclear. Only 35 of 69 accused were summoned. “It is incomprehensible why they are not all present whereas the trial takes place in the same prison they are incarcerated”, says Bashirahishize.
According to him, these are abnormal conditions. “In the history of Burundian justice, it is the first time that a trial takes place in prison.” He argues that article 170 of the code of Burundian criminal procedure provides that all trials must be public, except when the accused is a minor. “This file is political, it is particularly alarming that the power wants to judge it with such discretion”, he deplores.
He asks the national and international public opinion to follow the case closely.
Pierre Mbonimpa, the chairman of APRODH, who was recently released from prison, notes that the hearing in prison did not respect judicial norms, because there was no Burundian flag or a picture of the president. He deplores that the judges are not independent and are guided by political powers. “The many irregularities do not surprise me”, he explains. “Because it is a political trial.” He indicates that if the international community does not intervene, the trial will never end.
The appeal concerns the case of 69 young members of MSD who were arrested during a meeting in Kinindo in March this year. What appeared to be a collective morning jog by MSD youth-members, erupted in a clash with the police, who accused them of organizing an illegal demonstration. Twenty-one youth members were given life sentences, while dozens of others were given shorter jail terms.
Members of MSD who attended the trial returned from the prison singing their party’s songs. They wore strips of green cloth around their wrists. “When Mbonimpa was in prison his followers created “Green Friday” to support him. Now, we want to support our brothers. We will always put on green when they appeal, to show them our support”, says one of the MSD members. The police tried to stop them singing, but in vain.