Three schoolgirls in Burundi risk being jailed for five years for scribbling on President Pierre Nkurunziza’s photo in their textbooks, says campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW said the three were arrested last week and are awaiting trial after being charged on Monday with insulting the head of state.
The agency also said the authorities had initially arrested seven schoolchildren last week, but four of them, including a 13-year-old, were freed immediately.
The remaining three, all under the age of 18, spent the weekend in prison.
HRW director for Central Africa Lewis Mudge said the father of one of the girls said on Saturday they were “too scared to eat”.
Mr Mudge added: “With so many real crimes being committed in Burundi, it’s tragic that children are the ones being prosecuted for harmless scribbles.
4/5 Ce n’est pas la première fois que des enfants sont ciblés par la répression politique au Burundi. En 2016, les autorités avaient arrêté des écoliers pour des griffonnages sur la photo du président. https://t.co/o38RhF4G9m pic.twitter.com/vfrqzdiIdw
— Lewis Mudge (@LewisMudge) March 20, 2019
“Authorities should focus on holding perpetrators of serious rights violations to account instead of jailing schoolchildren for doodles.”
The rights activist has tweeted a cartoon and a picture of Mr Nkurunziza that has been scribbled on to show his opposition to the arrests.
Hundreds of children from several schools were also expelled the same year for defacing the head of state’s photo in schoolbooks.
Mr Nkurunziza won a heavily disputed third term in 2015.