KENYA, Jul 23 – Burundian security forces crushed anti-government demonstrations, including shooting protesters running away from them, to silence those opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza bid for a third-term, a rights group said Thursday.
“Burundian authorities sought not just to disperse demonstrations, but to punish protesters for expressing their political views,” Amnesty International said in a report, titled “Braving Bullets.”
“They used excessive and disproportionate force, including lethal force, against protesters, at times shooting unarmed protesters running away from them,” added the report released in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Results from Tuesday’s presidential polls, which were condemned as illegitimate by the international community after sparking months of deadly violence that forced tens of thousands to flee the country, are expected on Friday.
Anti-Nkurunziza protests have been violently repressed, leaving at least 100 people dead since late April.
In mid-May, rebel generals also attempted to overthrow Nkurunziza in a coup, although this failed and they have since launched a rebellion in the north of the country.
But Amnesty said that security forces had treated all protesters as part of a rebellion, worsening the situation.
“Treating largely peaceful demonstrators and entire residential areas as if they were part of an insurrection was counter-productive and escalated protests rather than defusing them,” the report added.
It did however note that some protesters were also violent, including killing a pro-government supporter.
The 51-year-old president — a former rebel, born-again Christian and football fanatic — faced no serious competition in the polls, but critics say a win by the incumbent will be a hollow victory, leaving him ruling over a deeply divided nation.
UN electoral observers — some of the few international monitors in Tuesday’s poll — said parliamentary elections on May 29 took place in a “climate of widespread fear and intimidation”.
The government has dismissed criticism of the poll after the United States, European Union and former colonial power Belgium said the elections were not credible.