On January 8, 2020, Jean de Dieu Nkunzimana, a third-year student at the University of Burundi and a member of the opposition party Conseil National pour la Liberté (CNL), was reportedly beaten and kidnapped in connection with an alleged meeting he held on campus.
At approximately 1:00 AM, suspected members of the Imbonerakure, the student-wing of Burundi’s ruling party, the Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), and a campus security official broke into Nkunzimana’s dormitory, where they beat him and accused him of holding an allegedly illegal meeting of the CNL on campus.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, the Imbonerakure and CNDD-FDD have carried out frequent attacks, including beatings and killings, on actual and alleged members of the CNL, in an apparent effort to suppress the in the lead-up to Burundi’s 2020 general election.
During the January 8 incident, Imbonerakure members and the university security official reportedly demanded that Nkunzimana name other members of the CNL and show them their rooms on campus. Nkunzimana was reportedly taken off campus overnight after refusing their demands. The next day, Nkunzimana’s captors took him to a police station in Bwiza.
As of this report, there is no public information indicating Nkunzimana’s whereabouts, whether he remains in police custody, or whether state authorities have launched an investigation into his kidnapping.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the kidnapping and beating of a student in connection with the alleged exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly. State and university authorities have a responsibility to prevent and respond to such attacks, including by investigating and holding perpetrators responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, kidnappings and violence on campus intended to restrict political expression or association undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.