Photo: A police officer arrests a protester in a street of Kinshasa on September 13, 2014, during a demonstration against a bill for a constitutional amendment which would allow President Joseph Kabila to run for a third term in 2016. AFP PHOTO / Junior D. Kannah
The Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) must immediately and unconditionally release human rights activists arrested on 15 March in the capital, Kinshasa, for holding a meeting. Those suspected of criminal responsibility for the arbitrary arrests must be brought to justice in a fair trial.
Five youth activists are among a group of civil society activists detained since 15 March following their arrest at the Centre Eloko ya Makasi, a cultural centre in Masina, Kinshasa. They were attending a press conference after a workshop on youth civic engagement in political processes. A DRC journalist who was also held alongside the activists was released yesterday evening.
The DRC government must immediately release activists detained for peaceful assembly and free expression. These arrests show the government’s continued crackdown on peaceful assembly before next year’s presidential election.Christian Rumu, Amnesty International’s Campaigner for the Great Lakes Region
Sources indicated to Amnesty International that approximately 30 people, including some foreigners, were arrested by DRC security forces who stormed the meeting, some of them armed and dressed in civilian clothes.
Some of those arrested in the operation were released the same day, but civil society organizations in Kinshasa maintain that several people still remain behind bars.
Fadel Barro, Aliou Sane and Malal Talla from Y’en a Marre of Senegal, Ouedraogo Sibiri from Balai Citoyen of Burkina Faso, Fred Bauma, from the DRC’s youth movement Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) are still being held.
Journalist Eric Izami of the DRC’s television station Antenne A was released yesterday evening.
On the morning of 17 March, 10 more activists from LUCHA were also arrested in Goma as they staged a sit-in demonstration outside the provincial office of the Agence Nationale des Renseignements (ANR) protesting the arrests of their colleagues in Kinshasa.
LUCHA is one of the youth civil society movements that hosted the meeting that was disrupted by police on 15 March.
The arrests have instilled a cloud of anxiety in Kinshasa in the wake of a clampdown on freedom of expression and assembly in the DRC in recent months during the debate over the amendment of the electoral code law.
“Arbitrarily arresting so many activists in violation of fundamental rules of international law and holding them with total disregard for due process sends a worrying signal that space for debate around DRC’s elections is shrinking fast,” said Christian Rumu.
An eyewitness told Amnesty International that people were harassed and man-handled by security forces as individuals were arrested in Kinshasa.
“The Senegalese and Burkinabé participants in the meeting were violently brutalised while the Congolese attendees to the meeting were beaten up. Some people were beaten with sticks and heads were violently banged against cars” said the eyewitness.
Amnesty International joins an outcry by both local and international human rights organizations urging the DRC government to free those arrested.
On 17 March, DRC Government Spokesperson Lambert Mende was quoted by French radio Radio France International (RFI) condemning the meeting and accused the youth groups of insurgency in the DRC.
“It is disturbing that the police would hinder activists and journalists from discussing civic engagement in the political process. The DRC government must show its commitment to international human rights by immediately freeing those arrested and investigating violations committed during the arrests,” Christian Rumu urged.
The meeting where the arrests took place was organized by Filimbi – a Congolese youth movement for Civic Action. Representatives of Y’en a Marre, a civil society group from Senegal took part in the workshop. Some of its members are well known in the DRC. They played an important role in the popular mobilization against Senegal’s former President’s bid to run for a third term in 2012. Members of Burkina Faso’s Balai Citoyen, a civil society group which contributed to the ousting of President Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso in October 2014, were also involved.