Scores of young Burundians were arbitrarily arrested and ill-treated by intelligence officials, police, and youth from the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) in the last two months, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed.
Documenting more than 148 cases between April and July in four provinces and in the capital of Bujumbura, involving intelligence officials, police and CNDD-FDD members, also known as Imbonerakure, the watchdog said the youth were accused of leaving the country to join an armed rebellion.
HRW Africa director Daniel Bekele said: "The Imbonerakure have no legal right to arrest anyone, yet they have been stopping people arbitrarily, beating them, and handing them over to the intelligence services, who have tortured some of them.
"The Burundian Government should publicly order all Imbonerakure to stop arresting people and ensure that Imbonerakure and intelligence officials responsible for ill-treatment and torture are brought to justice."
More than 140,000 Burundians have fled the country a month before demonstrations against president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term started in April and were brutally suppressed by the police.
The civilians sought refuge in neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some Burundians have been forming an armed opposition movement in exile.
According to victims, that Imbonerakure arrested and beat the civilians with sticks and clubs, forced to roll in muddy pits and punched in the face, sometimes in the presence of intelligence officials.
Imbonerakure often handed over the victims directly to intelligence officials, who transferred them to offices of the national intelligence service, Service national de renseignement (SNR), whose agents and policemen beat them with electric cables to force them to admit to trumped-up charges, such as planning to join an armed rebellion in Rwanda.
Imbonerakure national president Denis Karera said that he was not aware of all the allegations against individual Imbonerakure.
"An Imbonerakure has no privilege over other citizens. Nobody is above the law. If an Imbonerakure is doing something illegal, he should be punished."
Image: A former member of Imbonerakure claimed that the party members tied his arms behind his back, beat him with sticks and tried to strangle him. Photo: © Human Rights Watch 2015.