The mob knew where to go, says Associated Press photographer Jerome Delay. “They went straight to his house, found him, and started beating him up with sticks and stones.”
On Thursday, in Bujumbura, Burundi, Jean Claude Niyonzima, a man suspected of being a member of ruling party’s Imbonerakure youth militia, came close to being lynched.
Since April 25, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office, the Great Lakes country has been the scene of violent protests. Burundi’s constitution says the president should be elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years, renewable one time, according to the Associated Press.
The protests remain localized, said Delay, taking place mostly in strongholds of the opposition, but “they are spreading,” he tells TIME. “There have been attempts by small groups to hit the [city’s] business district, but they were quickly repressed. Protesters have blocked streets with barricades. There is a strong police presence throughout, with the military acting as a buffer between police and protesters.”
But the protesters are getting more organized, and the police is now running out of tear gas. “They have started using live bullets,” said Delay, who received a call Thursday morning from a colleague, freelance photographer Phil Moore, that trouble was brewing.
In the Cibitoke district of Bujumbura, a dead protester laid in a pool of blood—he had been shot in the head. “Many soldiers came to the scene,” said Delay. “They were being yelled at by protesters who felt they had failed to protect them.” A mob formed and started marching. And that’s when they reached Jean Claude Niyonzima’s house.
“The attack was a flashback to scenes I had witnessed in Bangui last year,” said the photographer, who covered the violent conflict in Central African Republic in 2013 and 2014. “The zero tolerance for the other, the rage of revenge after one of yours was killed. They must have known where to go. They went straight to his house.”
Niyonzima tried to escape several times—cornered between two buildings, begging for his life, the entire scene felt like an interrogation, said Delay. “He was grabbed, kicked, hit, stoned, but still he had the survival strength to flee into a wide sewer under a hail of stone.”
Then, the army rushed in, firing shots in the air to disperse the crowd. “The soldiers pulled him out of the sewers and kept his assailants at bay,” Delay said. But it only took a minute for the protestors to find another victim, just a few meters up the street. A still unidentified man was beaten and left for dead.
“Where this will go is anyone’s guess,” said Delay. “Members of the civil society have asked protesters to refrain from mounting such attacks, but I’ve just learned that a man was burned to death elsewhere in town.”
Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.
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