Burundi school suspends 300 students for defacing president photo

Insulting Burundi's president, currently Pierre Nkurunziza, carries a potential jail term of five to 10 years, according to the country's penal code (AFP Photo/Joel Saget) (AFP/File)

Nairobi (AFP) - More than 300 students at a high school in Burundi have been suspended for defacing a photo of President Pierre Nkurunziza, parents and an official told AFP on Thursday.

The students, from a school in Ruziba, south of the capital Bujumbura, were sent home a week ago after staff found they had defaced a picture of the president in a textbook.

"After they found the defiled photos in human sciences textbooks, the administration sent every student in the eighth grade home," a parent who asked to remain anonymous told AFP.

The parent said the administration told the students, aged between 14 and 16, that they could not come back to class until they turned in those responsible for the graffiti.

School staff discovered the desecrated photos a week ago in about 40 of the textbooks. In some of the pictures the eyes had been gouged out, while insults against the president were scrawled over others.

The parent said they had apologised for the graffiti during a meeting with the management, but said they "wouldn't hear it".

"It's terrible. We don't know what's going to happen," the parent said.

School director Yves Marimba told AFP that "a solution has been found" but did not comment on the students' return.

Ruziba, a town in the county of Kanyosha just south of Bujumbura, is a stronghold of principal opposition leader Agathon Rwasa.

When reached by AFP, Kanyosha city chief Abdul Bampoye refused to answer questions on the issue, saying he "didn't have any details at the moment".

"Everyone is afraid," said a teacher at the school who also requested anonymity to discuss the controversy.

The unnamed teacher said Burundi's national intelligence and security service "has taken over the matter and soldiers stationed in Ruziba are the ones who came to lock the doors of all the eighth grade classes".

The central African country has been plunged into a deep crisis since Nkurunziza announced in April 2015 that he was running for a third term, a vote he won last July amid opposition boycotts.

Violence has left more than 500 people dead and forced more than 270,000 Burundians to flee the country, according to the UN.