BUJUMBURA – Lawyers for the former boss of Burundi’s ruling party said at the opening of his trial on Wednesday he should be released because prosecutors had failed to prove he tried to destabilise the central African nation.
Hussein Radjabu, the former head of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD ruling party, was thrown in jail in April, accused of fomenting instability.
“Radjabu has been detained illegally for over seven months, but the prosecutors were not able to prove the charges against him. For that reason, we demand the provisional release of our client,” lawyer Prosper Niyoyankana said.
Burundi High Court judges said they would consider Hussein Radjabu’s application to be freed before continuing with the trial.
“We can’t say when we will give our decision, but we promise to work on it as soon as possible,” said the head of the judges’ panel, Laurentine Kanyana.
Radjabu, who still has support in some quarters, wielded tremendous influence as party chair and was seen by many as the real power behind Nkurunziza, with control over party finances and a powerful intelligence network.
Several supporters chanted “You are the Mandela of Burundi” as Radjabu was returned to jail after the trial was adjourned.
He was believed to be behind the treason trial of several opposition politicians, including former President Domitien Ndayizeye, that ended in an acquittal and tarnished Burundi’s image after several defendants said they were tortured.
Burundi is emerging from more than a decade of ethnic conflict that killed more than 300,000 people in the mountainous tea and coffee growing nation of 8 million.
It had been seen as an African success story after Nkurunziza was elected peacefully under a U.N.-backed plan. But claims of corruption and rights abuses have clouded that.