Burundi has released three schoolgirls who were detained for allegedly scribbling on President Pierre Nkurunziza’s picture in textbooks, the BBC reports.
The detention of the girls about two weeks ago on a charge of insulting the head of state had led to a social media campaign under the hashtag #FreeOurGirls, with people posting on Twitter images of the president defaced with clown wigs and twirly images.
The country’s minister for justice, Aimée Laurentine Kanyana, told the state broadcaster RTNB that the girls – aged 15,16 and 17 – were given provisional release on Tuesday but future cases would result in prosecutions.
“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,” she told state broadcaster RTNB.
The arrests of the schoolgirls had 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.
Crudely doctored images of the leader are being circulated online under the hashtag, #FreeOurGirls.
Burundian authorities are routinely accused of cracking down on human rights and dissent.
The father of one of the detained girls told campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) that they were too scared to eat.
HRW urged the government to release the schoolgirls and concentrate on curbing abuses by the security forces.
“Authorities should focus on holding perpetrators of serious rights violations to account instead of jailing schoolchildren for doodles, the group’s Central Africa director, Lewis Mudge, said.
In a similar case in 2016, several schoolchildren were imprisoned and hundreds expelled for scribbling on images of the president’s face.