Bujumbura - Burundi's opposition on Tuesday condemned the arrest of one of its key leaders, claiming he had been “set up” in a sex and bribery scandal designed to block a challenge to the country's president.
Frederic Bamvuginyumvira, a former vice-president of Burundi and current deputy of the Front for Democracy in Burundi (Frodebu) party, was arrested on Thursday “while having sex... in a house of ill repute”, said senior Supreme Court official Emmanuel Rumbete.
Bamvuginyumvira, 52, is alleged to have then tried to bribe his way to freedom, while a woman, reportedly an old family friend in her fifties, was released.
But his party said his arrest was organised by President Pierre Nkurunziza, adding to political tensions in the small central African nation, torn in the past by civil war, rebellion and massacres.
“This is outrageous,” said Frodebu president Leonce Ngendakumana. “We are witnessing a shameless and growing campaign orchestrated by Pierre Nkurunziza to remove a man known for his integrity, and who could pose a threat in the general election in 2015.”
Bamvuginyumvira, a highly respected leader with a reputation for being tough on graft, was Burundi's vice president from 1998 to 2001, and is touted as one of the most serious potential opposition presidential candidates for 2015.
According to eyewitness accounts, Bamvuginyumvira was arrested while riding in a car in the centre of the capital Bujumbura.
One of his lawyers, Fabien Segatwa, criticised the lack of evidence against him, as well as condemning his treatment in prison, where he said the politician was “forced to sleep on the floor” without a mattress or blankets.
“He was first prosecuted for adultery, but that charge was quickly abandoned because it requires a complaint from his wife,” Segatwa said, adding that police also considered charges of rebellion and incitement to debauchery.
Frodebu won the 1993 general elections, bringing to power the country's first elected president Melchior Ndadaye.
Ndadaye was assassinated a few months later, triggering a brutal civil war that ended in 2006.
Like other opposition groups Frodebu boycotted legislative elections in 2010.