Burundi prosecutors seek life term for sacked PM

Burundi Bunyoni was sacked as prime minister in 2022.  By TCHANDROU NITANGA (AFP/File)
Bunyoni was sacked as prime minister in 2022. By TCHANDROU NITANGA (AFP/File)

Prosecutors in Burundi called Thursday for ousted prime minister Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni to be sentenced to life in prison on charges including threatening the life of the president, a judicial source and witnesses said.

Bunyoni has been on trial since September before the Supreme Court, sitting in session at the prison in the political capital Gitega where he is being detained.

He was prime minister from mid-2020 until September 2022 when he was fired, days after President Evariste Ndayishimiye had warned of a "coup" plot against him.

Bunyoni, who appeared in the dock with six co-defendants, pleaded not guilty to all charges and said he should be acquitted because of a lack of evidence.

The army general is accused of using witchcraft to threaten the life of the head of state, undermining national security, attempting to topple government institutions, destabilising the economy and illegal enrichment, among other charges.

"For all these reasons, I request that Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni be punished with a sentence of penal servitude for life," said prosecutor Jean-Bosco Bucumi.

He also called for a fine of 7.1 million Burundian francs (around $2,500) and "damages equivalent to twice the value of the 153 houses and plots of land and the 43 vehicles belonging to him".

The prosecution also requested 30-year prison sentences against the six others in the dock, including the two main co-defendants, a police colonel and a senior intelligence agent.

The presiding judge said a verdict would be issued within 30 days.

A former police chief and internal security minister, Bunyoni was seen as the head of a cabal of military leaders known as "the generals" who wielded the true political power in Burundi.

A close ally of former president Pierre Nkurunziza, Bunyoni has been an influential figure in the ruling CNDD-FDD party since it took power in 2005.

Carina Tertsakian of the Burundi Human Rights Initiative said Bunyoni's arrest was the "culmination of a personal rivalry" with Ndayishimiye.

"It was a golden opportunity to bring him to justice for his involvement in human rights violations," she said in a message to AFP.

"But unfortunately, none of the offences relate to murder, torture, and other crimes committed while Bunyoni was security minister (from 2007-2011 and 2015-2020)," she added.

Ndayishimiye took power in June 2020 after Nkurunziza died and has been hailed by the international community for slowly ending years of Burundi's isolation under his predecessor's chaotic and bloody rule.

But he has failed to improve a wretched human rights record and the country of 12 million people remains one of the poorest on the planet.

"We regret that human rights do not appear to be high on the president's agenda. Rather, his goal is to consolidate his power and remove people around him who don't support him," said Tertsakian.

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024