Authorities in the Republic of Congo should release political opponents detained for peaceful criticism of the recent elections, put an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions, and avoid any repression of peaceful protest, human rights organisations Amnesty International, Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme (OCDH), Association pour les Droits de l’Homme et l’Univers Carceral (ADHUC), and Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme (RPDH) said today.
The arrest and detention of those involved in peaceful protest violates the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,Deputy Regional Director for Amnesty International in West and Central Africa
Since the results of the 20 March Presidential election in Republic of Congo were rejected by the opposition, the Congolese authorities have conducted a series of arrests against leading opposition figures, including senior campaign officials of candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Okombi Salissa, accusing them of compromising national security.
“The arrest and detention of those involved in peaceful protest violates the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Anyone imprisoned on this basis should be released immediately”, said Stephen Cockburn, Deputy Regional Director for Amnesty International in West and Central Africa.
The arrests also came ahead of Tuesday’s ‘ville morte’ protest in which opposition parties called for citizens to stay at home and not go to work. There has been a heavy presence of security forces in towns and cities across Congo since the elections.
Those arrested include Jean Ngouabi, Anatole Limbongo Ngoka. Christine Moyen and Dieudonné Dhird from Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko’s campaign team, and Raymond Ebonga and Serge Blanchard Oba from the campaign team of Okombi Salissa. All of those arrested are currently being held at the ‘Direction General de surveillance du territoire’ (DGST) in Brazzaville, and none have had access to their families or lawyers.
Instead of trying to crush nonviolent dissent, authorities should uphold their duty to respect and facilitate peaceful protest.Trésor Nzila, Executive Director of OCDH
Other activists and protestors have also been arrested and detained, including those arrested by security forces when opposition candidates attempted to hold a press conference in Brazzaville on 25 March. In Pointe Noire at least 10 young activists have been arrested since the elections.
The human rights organisations have also called on authorities to respect the right to peaceful protest. In particular, they must ensure there is no repeat of excessive force against demonstrators, such as that seen in October 2015 when security forces killed at least 18 people involved in demonstrations against a referendum to change the country’s constitution.
“There will be no sustainable solution to Congo’s political crisis if the rights to freedom of expression and assembly are repressed. The authorities must rein in the security forces to avoid the arbitrary, abusive and deadly force that characterised the repression of the October demonstrations. Instead of trying to crush nonviolent dissent, they should uphold their duty to respect and facilitate peaceful protest,” said Trésor Nzila, Executive Director of OCDH.
The elections were held on 20 March under a total communications blackout, with telephone and internet connections cut. A number of leading political figures, including Paulin Makaya, leader of ‘Unis Pour le Congo’ (UPC), and Serge Matsoule, Federal Secretary for ‘Convention d’action pour la démocratie et le développement’ (CADD), were also arrested ahead of the elections and remain in detention.
“The authorities should respect the right to information, which means guaranteeing unhindered access to telecommunications, especially during key periods in public life. The State should also guarantee a peaceful environment, and political leaders should prioritize dialogue over force”, said Christian Mounzeo, Président of RPDH
Amnesty International attempted to travel to Republic of Congo before the elections to monitor the human rights situation, but was refused entry at the border, despite possessing the right visas and official invitations. The organization was told that its presence in the country was undesirable in the election context.