BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - A rights activist campaigning against constitutional change critics say will upset Burundi’s ethnic balance and entrench President Pierre Nkurunziza in power has failed in his plea for bail, a defense lawyer said on Wednesday.
The proposed amendments, which opponents fear may establish the primacy of Nkurunziza’s majority Hutus over Tutsis, have stirred the worst political crisis in the east African state since a 12-year civil war ended in 2005, and raised fears of renewed turmoil.
Lawyers for Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, 66, arrested in May after accusing the ruling CNDD-FDD party of distributing weapons to youth groups and backing paramilitary training in neighboring Congo, said they would appeal.
Burundi authorities deny Mbonimpa’s accusations, which have broght him charges of endangering state security.
“We have presented all the legal arguments...for the provisional release of our client - these are his age and fragile health state - but we were not understood,” said Mbonimpa’s lawyer Antoine Nzobandora.
Mbonimpa’s arrest was condemned by local civil society groups, international human rights organizations, and by some western countries such as the United States.
Mbonimpa, head of the association for the protection and defense of prisoners and human rights (APRODH), filed the bail request on health grounds last week when he appeared in a public court for the first time since his arrest.
“The court finds the request of the defense unfounded and orders: the continued detention of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and the case is referred to prosecution on the merits,” the court decision seen by Reuters on Wednesday said.
Mbonimpa and his organization rank among activists and rights groups that oppose constitutional changes proposed by the CNDD-FDD ruling party.
They would include creation of a single powerful prime minister from the ruling party, replacing two vice president posts shared between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi ethnic groups - a step critics say threatens to marginalize minorities.
They may also pave the way for president Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader, to run for a third term in office in 2015 elections.
Reporting by Reporting by Patrick Nduwimana; Editing by George Obulutsa and Ralph Boulton