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Burundi Just Arrested a Comedian For Making Fun of the President

Alfred Aubin Mugenzi, who goes by the stage name Kigingi, was picked up by the National Intelligence Service 10 months after he performed a skit that mocked Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza.

by Kayla Ruble
Apr 1 2016, 9:25pm

Photo by Evrard Ngendakumana/Reuters

Alfred Aubin Mugenzi, a comedian who goes by the stage name Kigingi, was picked up by the Burundi's National Intelligence Service earlier this week, his family told Agency France-Presse. Mugenzi had been traveling around the country promoting a domestic beer when he was detained in the central Burundi province of Muramvya on Tuesday. The comic was allegedly picked up for a sketch he performed mocking President Pierre Nkurunziza.

The skit in question was first unveiled in neighboring Rwanda last June, and poked fun at the soccer-club owning and playing head of state, who last year sought and won a controversial bid to seek a constitutionally questionable third term in power. During the sketch, Mugenzi took aim at the president, showing a stubborn Nkurunziza staying on the soccer field after getting two yellow cards during a match, rebuffing sport regulations that eject a player who receives that number of penalties.

It's been nearly a year since popular protests broke out on the streets of Burundi's capital city Bujumbura against Nkurunziza's decision to seek another term in office, and the demonstrations that quickly devolved into clashes with authorities and government supporters. Mugenzi's arrest is just the latest in a series of accusations of arbitrary arrests, politically motivated assassinations, and instances of torture made against the government in the months since.

Related: Skepticism Greets Decision to Send Human Rights and Military Observers Into Burundi

Meanwhile violence stemming from the actions of armed rebel groups has also escalated. In one of the most recent high profile incidents at the end of March, a rebel group known as Forebu claimed responsibility for killing top army officer Lieutenant Colonel Darius Ikurakure. Forebu — or the Republican Forces of Burundi — is led by former army officer Edward Nshimirimana, and aims to overthrow Nkurunziza and his administration.

Nkurunziza's decision to stay in power sparked unrest last April. Critics claimed the 52-year-old former rebel leader's move violated the country's constitution, passed following its 12-year civil war, which stipulates a limit of two terms for the president. Nkurunziza and his supporters, however, maintained that he was eligible to run again because he was technically appointed to his first term in 2005 by parliament rather than democratically elected.

Burundi's constitutional court ultimately sided with Nkurunziza, and he won a disputed election in July. But the unrest has intensified in the months since the victory, escalating from popular protests to grenade attacks, assassination attempts, and rebel attacks. The crisis has raised concerns in the international community about the risk of civil war breaking out again, destabilizing Burundi after years of progress that followed the 2005 peace accord that installed Nkurunziza as president. The ongoing violence and turmoil has left 439 people dead and pushed 250,000 people, or 2.5 percent of the total population, to flee the country.

Following a series of high-profile visits to Burundi at the end of February from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a delegation of African leaders, Nkurunziza agreed to allow the African Union to send human rights and military monitors to the country. This reversed course from the leader's initial position not to allow any international intervention.

The situation, however, has yet to see any significant improvements, according to the UN's human rights head Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. The official recently said torture appeared to be increasing, while reports of arbitrary arrests had not diminished.

"Continued human rights violations and impunity for perpetrators mean that many of Burundi's people live in terror," Zeid said during a March address at the Security Council. "The country remains on the brink of a sudden escalation of violence to even more massive proportions."

Related: UN Panel Says Rwanda Is Training Rebels to Depose Burundi's President

Another issue causing problems for Burundi this week was the death of former Rwandan politician Jacques Bihozagara, who was detained in a jail in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, at the time of his death. Bihozagara was retired from Rwandan politics and reportedly traveled between the two countries. He was accused of spying and arrested for espionage in Burundi back in December. Officials said hypertension was likely the cause of death, but Rwanda categorized the death as "suspicious."

The neighboring countries have been at odds for months as the crisis has unfolded, with Bujumbura accusing Rwanda of stoking tensions and supporting rebel groups recruiting in Burundian refugee camps inside Rwanda's borders. Rwanda has denied these claims, although leaked UN documents show the international body gathered evidence indicating that Rwanda has helped train Burundi rebel fighters.