Risk of death penalty for promoting democracy in the DRC

By Micheline Mwendike
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, activists Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala have been labeled "terrorists" and accused of planning to violently overthrow the government. Their "crime"? Organizing an event that encouraged young people to hold the regime to account. There is no viable evidence against them. If convicted, they may face the death penalty.
Read extracts from letters to Fred in prison from his close friend Micheline Mwendike.

My dear friend,

This difficult affair has lasted a year now but the passage of time has affected neither my convictions nor the commitment that I share with you and with all the other activists. You have passed your strength of resistance on to me and thousands of young people around the world. The anguish of knowing you are in prison for having tried to be a good citizen only gives me greater strength to confront the injustices that you have been forced to symbolize. Your courage is exceptional for you are today walking the path of death and yet you do not give up.

That simple phrase you sent me from your cell in Makala finally reached me: "If you can no longer walk, then crawl. But at all costs keep moving forward!!"

I would never have imagined that speaking up for what you believe would lead to prison.
Micheline Mwendike.

I would never have imagined that speaking up for what you believe would lead to prison. While leaders of armed groups that have killed and continue to kill our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, are rewarded with political posts and military ranks.

That a state, our state, has become so oppressive towards us, its own youth is unbelievable.

How wonderful our dreams used to be! The environment, health, entrepreneurship, changing the system, I don’t think like this anymore. With you in prison, I only dream of your freedom.

Image of Fred and his friend Micheline standing happily together eating roasted maize on cob during an event. Image of Fred and his friend Micheline standing happily together eating roasted maize on cob during an event.
DRC youth movement members Fred Bauma and Micheline Mwendike taken during an event at a humanitarian village in Goma, DRC.

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My dear friend,

Although forced upon you, your sacrifice means a lot.

Your imprisonment has given deep meaning to our history. It reveals the animosity of the current ruling class… Those leading our institutions have not understood that the generation of ‘president-for-life’ has grown old and that democracy is now the order of the day. The constitution is our guide.

Your imprisonment has loosened tongues: questions about changing the constitution are always in the new.
Micheline Mwendike

Your imprisonment has loosened tongues: questions about changing the constitution are always in the news, and you are the eternal scapegoat being used by those who are for and against democracy. 

After your imprisonment, other young people form our movement have been arrested. I have realized that we are being targeted by those keeping you in prison, they want to destroy us. They want to discourage the youth from determining our country’s future. Day after day, they take bad decisions for us and, unfortunately, for themselves.

They use our country’s institutions such as the media for their own interests, and mobilize the people against us.

The consequences are serious, and many like you are now in prison without having done anything wrong.

And our friend, Yves, how is he? I didn’t know him before he was arrested but now he holds a place in my heart. You know that you are my heroes.  

Your imprisonment has also taught me that we are not alone. That the youth of the Congo and the entire world are with us. On Facebook and Twitter, you can see the birth of the #FreeFred #FreeYves and #FreeLucha hashtags
Micheline Mwendike

Your imprisonment has also taught me that we are not alone. That the youth of the Congo and the entire world are with us. On Facebook and Twitter, you can see the birth of the #FreeFred #FreeYves and #FreeLucha hashtags.

I know we’ll get through this even though the struggle to build our country is taking so many sacrifices.

My dear friend, you should know that, in my eyes, you are a free man even though you are in prison. Promise me that, even there, you will fight for your survival. The struggle seems hard and long. Always take care of yourself. Don’t accept death physically, intellectually or morally.  

On your birthday, I give you my support, you can count on me. I am praying for you and for our struggle.

A patriotic hug.

See you soon!

Micheline Mwendike