Prosecutors in Burundi have charged 24 people with engaging in same-sex acts and inciting homosexuality in others, part of a crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights that has been criticised by the United Nations.
Police arrested 17 men and seven women as they attended a seminar organised by an HIV/Aids charity in the capital, Gitega, in late February, a Burundian activist told French news agency AFP this week.
After ten days of interrogation, all 24 were charged with "homosexual practices and incitement to homosexual practices", Armel Niyongere, who heads the human rights group ACAT Burundi, said on Wednesday.
An unnamed judicial source confirmed the charges, which are punishable by imprisonment under Burundi's 2009 law that makes consensual same-sex acts a criminal offence.
According to AFP's source, neighbours called police when they noticed teenagers entering the office of the non-profit organisation hosting the seminar, MUCO Burundi.
Searches revealed "condoms and documents on the rights of homosexuals at the scene", the source said.
'Growing agitation' against gay rights
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, expressed concern over the case, which he said formed part of "growing agitation against the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals in many countries, most recently in East Africa".
In his latest update to the Human Rights Council this week, Türk also cited a proposed "anti-homosexuality" bill in Uganda, a revised version of legislation struck down in 2014 that had sought to punish same-sex relations with life imprisonment.
The latest version of the bill, which is expected to be put before parliament shortly, targets the "promotion of homosexuality" as well as non-binary gender identities.
"It is unthinkable that we are facing such bigotry, prejudice and discrimination in the 21st century, holding back development of all members of society," Türk said in reference to the developments in both Uganda and Burundi.
Last week Burundi's president, Evariste Ndayishimiye, called on his fellow citizens "to curse those who indulge in homosexuality because God cannot bear it".