Three schoolgirls have been sent to prison in Burundi accused of scribbling on a picture of president Pierre Nkurunziza in their schoolbooks, a human rights group has said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the girls, who are all under the age of 18, face up to five years in prison if found guilty.
A father of one of the girls said they were too scared to eat, according to Lewis Mudge, HRW’s central Africa director.
The girls were arrested on 12 March along with three other schoolgirls and a 13-year-old boy, who was later released because he was below the age of criminal responsibility.
While three of the six girls were also released without charge, the remaining teenagers were charged with insulting the head of state on Monday.
In 2016, eight secondary school students were arrested and accused of insulting the head of state for writing phrases such as “get out” and “no to the 3rd term” on a picture of Mr Nkurunziza in a textbook.
Hundreds of children were also expelled for defacing pictures of the president in textbooks.
Burundi has been beset by crisis since Mr Nkurunziza stood for a third term in office in 2015.
“With so many real crimes being committed in Burundi, it’s tragic that children are the ones being prosecuted for harmless scribbles,” Mr Mudge said.
“Authorities should focus on holding perpetrators of serious rights violations to account instead of jailing schoolchildren for doodles.”