Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. Picture: Reuters/Evrard Ngendakumana

Bujumbura - Burundi Justice Minister Aimée Laurentine Kanyana announced Tuesday in Bujumbura that three girls who were detained for doodling leaders photos in their school books would be freed.

The Justice Minister said that she is aware that the court has released them, adding however they were mature enough to face justice as they were over 15 years.

The news of the arrest of the teenagers emerged in the last two weeks in Kirundo province, northern Burundi, when local reports indicated that around seven teenagers were facing arrest warrants following news that they had doodled images of Burundi president Pierre Nkurunziza in their books.

Civil society activists like Pacifique Nininahazwe commented on his Facebook account that Nkurunziza’s photos in school books is a sign he wants to make himself a king of Burundi.

“What are photos of Nkurunziza doing in kids books? I studied the Bagaza, Buyoya, and Ndadate regimes but there weren't any photos of them in our books. What is he doing in our kids’ books? “he commented.

According to a Human Rights Watch press release last week, the teenagers were facing up to five years in jail for endangering the country’s security. However, the press release says there is no clear fault in defacing the President’s photos in books.

Even though the teenagers have been released, investigations continue, and according to the Justice Minister, she is very sure that defacing a leader’s picture in students’ books is a crime.

Social media carried strong criticism of the imprisonment of the three young girls in Burundi northern women's prison in Ngozi.

A campaign carrying the hashtag #FreeOurGirls was launched, and many online users defaced the Burundi leader's photos and posted them on the internet, demanding the release of the imprisoned girls.

“Tell Nkurunziza that I don’t know him, but I will doodle his pictures and post them on social media. Tell him to trace my IP and come and arrest me,” reads some comments on twitter.

Burundi is accused by female activists of violating women's rights even though women comprise more than 30% in institutions. The fact that girls are banned from being out beyond 6pm to prevent non-desired pregnancies is harshly criticised. Activists claim that rapists of young girls sometimes go unpunished when they are linked to Government officials.

In 2015 and 2016 many students were accused of defacing the President's face in their books.

Nkurunziza, who promised to quit the presidency in the upcoming 2020 elections, has been facing protests by students all over the country.

Justice Minister Aimée Laurentine Kanyana, who has been one of the strong backers of Nkurunziza’s third term in office since 2015, has said parents need to re-educate their children to respect institutions.