Charlotte Umugwaneza
Charlotte Umugwaneza's body was supposedly found in the Gikoma river, but showed no sign of having been in contact with waterTwitter / One Voice

The Burundian police has revealed that an opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, who disappeared last week, has been murdered.

The body of Charlotte Umugwaneza, an activist for the opposition Mouvement pour la solidarité et le développement (MSD) party for Cibitoke – a stronghold for opposition supporters of the nation's capital Bujumbura – was found in the Gikoma river, the spokesperson for the security forces confirmed on 18 October.

The recent surge in violence has pushed more Burundians to flee the country, and the number of refugees exceeded 200,000 at the beginning of the month, according to the latest data released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Mysterious Disappearances

Umugwaneza's family and relatives accused the intelligence services after the activist disappeared on 16 October under what local residents described as strange circumstances.

To avoid the recurring violence, Umugwaneza had decided to move out of Cibitoke and had made her way to the northern neighbourhood of Ngagara to rent a van for the move.

The trip should have not have taken more than half an hour but she never reappeared. In the afternoon her family raised the alarm on social media, and local residents claimed Burundi's secret services were holding the activist captive.

"In the afternoon, we learned that she had arrived there [at the national intelligence service] and was imprisoned (...) There is a cell in which information officers put people to then lead them to other places," a resident told RFI.

Umugwaneza, whose family is originally from Rwanda, believed she would be targeted as she had fled to Rwanda for some time before returning to Burundi. The secret services denied Umugwaneza, who has three children and was the legal guardian to two other ones, was taken to their premises.

Charlotte Umugwaneza
Police confirmed the body seen on pictures this weekend was Charlotte Umugwaneza'sTwitter / One Voice

The next morning, however, photos of the body of a woman in her forties found a few kilometres away from the capital – on the N1 road near Bugarama – started circulating on social media.

Soon, Umugwaneza's family and a number of local media claimed to have recognised the activist. Presidential adviser Willy Nyamitwe condemned the "abominable assassination" of the campaigner on his Twitter account.

Activist was murdered

On 18 October, the police confirmed the body allegedly found in the river was Umugwaneza's. The photos which enabled relatives to identify Umugwaneza, however, strangely show no trace of water. The campaigner's hair looks dry and several traces of dust and blood are visible on the body.

Police said it has no information on the origins of the images and when they were taken. The security forces have launched an investigation.

Burundian human rights activist and one of the leading opponents of Nkurunziza's third term, Pacifique Nininahazwe, said he was mourning "the murder of Charlotte Umugwaneza that night, (who was on) the executive committee member of the Olucome, a committed activist for human rights, a great patriot, a very brave woman and good heart, a friend".

In a post of Facebook, he described how the "lifeless, tortured and bloodied body of Charlotte" appeared on the photos that "are so shocking I cannot share them".

"Who took these pictures? The question deserves to be asked," Nininahazwe said. "We see very little blood next to the body, which leads us to believe she was killed elsewhere. One has the impression that the assassins were determined that the images of the tortured body were shared".

He added: "Her family loses a mother. I lose a companion of struggle".

The Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union, meanwhile, has announced it is launching an in-depth investigation on human rights violations and other abuses against civilians. It is also considering imposing targeted sanctions against Burundians who contribute to the perpetuation of violence.

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