Update: Burundi government releases three schoolgirls arrested for scribbling on the president's photo in their textbooks

Burundi has released three schoolgirls who were detained for scribbling on President Pierre Nkurunziza’s picture in textbooks which led to international outcry.  

The three were the last still being held from a group of seven children arrested earlier in February in Kirundo province, in Burundi’s northeast some 200 kilometres from the commercial capital Bujumbura.

All were accused of insulting President Nkurunziza by defacing his image. A regional court in Kirundo had decided last Wednesday to proceed with a full trial against the three.  But Aimée Kanyana, the Minister for Justice, told state broadcaster RTNB that the girls had been given provisional release. Future cases would result in prosecutions, she said.    

She added that “we call on parents to strengthen the education of their children. “We remind children that they have to respect authorities, that the age of criminal responsibility is 15. Next time, justice will clamp down on such behaviours.”  

The arrest of the schoolgirls resulted in an online campaign, with users using the social media hashtag #freeourgirls to post pictures of the president defaced with clown wigs, twirly moustaches, pointy ears, and bloody fangs. “With so many real crimes being committed in Burundi, it’s tragic that children are the ones being prosecuted for harmless scribbles,” Human Rights Watch Central Africa Director, Lewis Mudge, wrote.
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