Burundi court jails 182 followers of Catholic cult

Bujumbura, Burundi — A Burundian court has sentenced 182 followers of a Catholic prophet, who claims to see visions of the Virgin Mary, to up to five years in jail for defying police orders, a court spokesman said on Saturday.

The disciples of 30-year-old prophet Zebiya, were arrested Tuesday morning after defying a ban to gather on a hilltop that has become a place of pilgrimage.

Zebiya has reportedly seen visions on the hill on the 12th day of every month.

"Fifteen adults thought to be the leaders of the group were sentenced to five years each," Elie Ntunwanayo, Burundi Supreme Court spokesman told AFP.

Court documents showed 182 people had been sentenced, with jail terms varying between three years and six months.

"They were all arrested and sentenced for civil disobedience," Ntunwanayo said.

Twenty children under 14 years-old were released by the court.

The trial took just over 5 hours with a verdict reached at around midnight on Friday.

In March, police in the east African nation clashed with Zebiya's followers leaving at least six people dead and 35 wounded.

Violence broke out after hundreds of her followers were blocked by police as they tried to gather at her hilltop shrine.