BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Eleven secondary school students were put in jail in Burundi for scribbling on photos of President Pierre Nkurunziza, parents and a government official said.
A court later released six of the youth, who are minors, said lawyer Eric Batunwanayo, who is assisting them.
The youths, aged 14 to 19, were charged with insulting the head of state, a crime punishable by imprisonment of between six months to five years, plus up to $32 in fines, the governor of Muramvya province Emmanuel Niyungeko said.
"Justice must prevail," he said. "After God came the king. Today we have no kings; it is the president who replaced them. So he is in the second position of honor after God. These children made a serious offense. We will keep consulting judicial authorities and parents in order to find a solution."
The teens were arrested Friday, according to Melanie Nijimbere, who said her daughter Darlene is one of those being held in Muramvya's main prison. The president's photo was in a text book which is shared among three classes, she said.
"Our children never come with books at home ... How can they know exactly those who made the squiggles?" said Nijimbere. "No witness has forward to say they have seen my daughter doing that ... They should all be released immediately."
Last year Nkurunziza won a third term in office that critics say is unconstitutional and has caused turmoil in Burundi that the U.N. says has resulted in more than 400 deaths. More than 260,000 people have fled the country fearing it could return to civil war. Hundreds have also fled fearing persecution or assassination for opposing Nkurunziza's third term.
The United States last week sanctioned two Burundian government officials and a rebel leader by freezing their accounts in the U.S. and prohibiting U.S. nationals doing business with them. The two government officials were accused attacking those opposed to Nkurunziza's third term.