DRC: Chilling crackdown on dissent amidst election delays
The authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have overseen a systematic crackdown on opponents of President Joseph Kabila’s attempt to stay in power beyond the constitutionally mandated second term, Amnesty International said today.
In a new report, ‘Dismantling dissent: DRC’s repression of expression amidst electoral delays’ Amnesty International says the DRC government is using state institutions to prevent people who oppose a prolongation of President Kabila’s term in office to organize and express themselves.
This campaign of harassment and intimidation against dissident voices flies in the face of the DRC’s own constitution, as well as its international commitments to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly
“The government is violating the rights of opposition politicians and pro-democracy activists to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly while expelling foreign researchers and threatening human rights organizations that are working to monitor these violations with closure,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“This campaign of harassment and intimidation against dissident voices flies in the face of the DRC’s own constitution, as well as its international commitments to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
Local authorities in three different places have imposed blanket bans on demonstrations, and have even broken up indoor meetings of political opposition parties. Numerous opposition protests have been declared unauthorised while demonstrations in support of the ruling coalition have been held freely, facilitated by the police and local authorities.
Political leaders who left the ruling coalition in disagreement over term limits have faced reprisals.
Moise Katumbi, a prominent businessman and politician, was targeted by the authorities soon after he declared his intention to stand in the forthcoming election. He was subsequently charged with hiring mercenaries and selling a house that did not belong to him. He left the country for medical treatment, and was sentenced in absentia in June 2016 to three years in jail and a US$1 million fine. He continues to live in exile.
Martin Fayulu, an MP who has been a leading voice in the campaign against President Kabila standing for a third term, was arrested in February 2016 as he was mobilizing people in the capital, Kinshasa, to take part in Ville Morte, a general strike called by the opposition to protest the electoral delays. He was released the same evening, but told Amnesty International that his car, campaign material and other personal belongings remain confiscated.
“The DRC government is riding roughshod over its regional and international human rights obligations. Denying people the right to freedom of expression could trigger violence in an already tense political climate,” said Sarah Jackson.
“The international community, including DRC’s regional partners, must encourage the DRC authorities to bring this wave of repression to a speedy end, unconditionally release all individuals detained for political reasons and drop the charges against them.”
Denying people the right to freedom of expression could trigger violence in an already tense political climate
With barely three months left of President Kabila’s second term, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has yet to call the elections. Its chairman has said the elections cannot be held on time because of technical difficulties.
Meanwhile, the constitutional court ruled in May that the incumbent can legally remain in office until his successor is in place. The opposition disagrees with this ruling.
A national dialogue initiated by President Kabila started early September. However, the majority of opposition political parties declined to participate and have accused the AU-appointed facilitator, Edem Kodjo, of lacking independence.