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Burundi Visitor Logbooks Still Required 3 Years After Unrest


FILE - A resident looks out of house as riot police walk past in Bujumbura's Nyakabiga district in Burundi, May 4, 2015.

The shadow of the Burundian government's 2015 crackdown on political unrest lingers over this capital city. Amid tightened security, residents must keep log books in their homes to track visitors. Security services dropping by can demand to see them and failure to produce them can result in arrest.

Irakoze lives in one of the neighborhood where protests erupted three years ago. The 22-year-old has not fled her area, but she has spent much of her time alone.

She said the government gave her a notebook two years ago, and she hasn't received any visitors since then because people are afraid.

Burundian authorities distributed notebooks to each home, requiring residents to register family members and other visitors. They also must report any visitor to the government's "area chief." Failure to register and report a visitor can be a ticket to jail.

Police enforce the regulations with frequent searches, which terrifies Irakoze.

Irakoze, 22, shows empty pages of her household log book. She is yet to receive a visitor since the book register was introduced in 2016. Burundi authorities argue such a book will keep the peace and security. (M. Yusuf for VOA)
Irakoze, 22, shows empty pages of her household log book. She is yet to receive a visitor since the book register was introduced in 2016. Burundi authorities argue such a book will keep the peace and security. (M. Yusuf for VOA)

She said police forcefully knock on the door, scaring her family and waking children from their sleep. She said the knocking can have an impact even on those who are sick.

Sometimes you think you are being attacked by criminals, she said. They come with a lot of force to do their search.

Security agencies say that keeping records of people's movements will help them maintain peace and security.

Some Burundi residents support the policy. Sixty-eight-year-old Nduwabike Michel said it is good to have the log because no one bothers you and one can live freely without fear.

A man who lives in Cibitoke neighborhood, scene of protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's rule, said police searches are not about improving security but instead are intended to punish people for their political views.

He said police don't search areas where there were no protests.

The 2015 unrest was sparked by the president's decision to run for a controversial third term. Last week, Burundians approved a constitutional change that extends presidential terms to seven years from five. After Nkurunziza's current term expires in 2020, he potentially could remain in office until 2034.

The United States said the process was marred by a lack of transparency and efforts to intimidate the opposition.

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