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Congo 2016/2017

Presidential elections were held amid violence and controversy. Political opponents were detained for peaceful criticism of the elections. Security forces used excessive force and sometimes torture to curb dissent. A new law further restricting the space for civil society organizations was passed.

Background

On 20 March, presidential elections were held under a total communications blackout, with telephone and internet connections cut. Denis Sassou Nguesso was re-elected president.

Amnesty International was denied entry to the country to monitor the human rights situation before the presidential elections.

Freedoms of expression and assembly

Following the results of presidential elections, which were contested by the opposition, the authorities arrested several leading opposition figures, including senior campaign officials of presidential candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and André Okombi Salissa, accusing them of compromising national security. Those arrested and still in detention included Jean Ngouabi, Anatole Limbongo-Ngoka, Marcel Mpika, Jacques Banangazala and Ngambou Roland.

Between 4 April and 14 June, Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko was kept under de facto house arrest, with security forces surrounding his compound without a judicial warrant. He was arrested on 14 June, charged with jeopardizing state security and unlawful possession of weapons and munitions of war, and was detained at the main prison in the capital, Brazzaville. He was later also charged with incitement to disturb public order. André Okombi Salissa was believed to have fled the country in June, following a raid by security forces on his home.

A number of leading political figures, including Paulin Makaya, leader of the opposition Unis Pour le Congo, and Okouya Rigobert of the political group Convention d'action pour la démocratie et le développement (CADD) remained in detention, following their arrest in November 2015 for protesting against changes to the Constitution. On 25 July, Paulin Makaya was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of €3,800 for taking part in an unauthorized protest. An appeal he filed on the same day was considered on 6 December, more than four months later, even though the timeline defined by law had expired and a reminder had been sent to the relevant authorities. His appeal was adjourned twice and a decision had not been taken at the end of the year. He remained a prisoner of conscience.

The opposition platform “Initiative pour la démocratie au Congo - Front républicain pour le respect de l'ordre constitutionnel et l'alternance démocratique” (IDC-FROCAD) claimed that 121 political prisoners remained in detention in Brazzaville’s main prison.

On 9 November, the authorities denied authorization for a sit-in organized by the youth movement “Ras-le-Bol” in Brazzaville. IDC-FROCAD reported that protests had been banned on several occasions, generally on the grounds that they would risk disturbing public order, and that documents banning the protests made reference to the April post-electoral violence in Brazzaville.

Excessive use of force

Government security forces conducted air strikes on residential areas in the southeastern department of Pool on 5 April. Helicopters dropped at least 30 bombs on residential areas, including on a school in the town of Vindza when targeting the former residence of Pastor Frederic Ntumi, leader of the “Ninjas” armed group. Officials from Pool reported that up to 5,000 people had been displaced. The air strikes followed an outbreak of violence in Brazzaville following the endorsement on 4 April by the Constitutional Court of the result of the presidential elections, in which gunfire broke out in the streets, young people raised barricades in the southern neighbourhood of Makélékélé, a local mayor’s office and two police stations were set ablaze and armed men attacked an army barracks. The government attributed the violence to the “Ninjas”.

On 29 April, a joint mission composed of police, journalists and civil society organizations to assess the security situation in Pool and investigate the bombardments was conducted. It had yet to produce an official report at the end of the year.

Further air strikes were carried out in Pool in September; information on the incidents was limited due to the extreme difficulty in accessing the area, including because of restrictions set by the government.

Torture and other ill-treatment

On 29 September, Augustin Kala Kala, deputy national coordinator of CADD, was kidnapped by members of the presidential security forces in the Sadelmy neighbourhood of Brazzaville. He said that his hands and feet were handcuffed, and that he was subjected to electric shocks and burned on several occasions with plastic bags on his back and his hands. He was also beaten with wooden sticks and a belt, and spent nine days in a container. He was released on 13 October and dumped near a hospital mortuary in Brazzaville. No investigation was initiated into his allegations.

Legal, constitutional or institutional developments

In September, a draft law regulating civil society organizations was adopted by the Senate and was awaiting promulgation by the President. Civil society organizations had complained that the law was developed without meaningful consultation, and that it limited their freedom of association through measures that included criminalizing activities perceived to threaten institutional stability, preventing religious organizations from working on political questions, and requiring approval by the authorities to carry out activities.

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Get the Amnesty International Report 2016/17