Congo-Brazzaville: Torture and arbitrary detentions of dozens of people put freedom of expression under severe strain
Dozens of activists and opposition members are languishing in prisons in Congo Brazzaville, some for almost three years, simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression, while the international community maintains a silence on the human rights situation in the country, Amnesty International and four organizations said today.
The organizations call on the authorities to release all those arbitrarily arrested and open an investigation into allegations of torture.
The Congolese authorities have not only resorted to arbitrarily arresting opposition members and activists, they have often subjected them to torture too. Some of the victims continue to bear the scars of such inhuman and degrading treatments
"The Congolese authorities have not only resorted to arbitrarily arresting opposition members and activists, they have often subjected them to torture too. Some of the victims continue to bear the scars of such inhuman and degrading treatments,” said Balkissa Idé Siddo, Amnesty International Central Africa researcher.
"At every opportunity, the international community and donors such as the EU and the UN must work to ensure that the Congolese authorities immediately put an end to the repression and release all those arbitrarily detained."
Since the October 2015 constitutional referendum and the March 2016 presidential election, which were strongly contested by both the opposition and the international community, the authorities have led a wave of arrests of opposition supporters and banned peaceful demonstrations.
"The Congolese courts must immediately order the release of anyone arrested simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression. In any case where there is reasonable evidence for them to be charged with recognized crimes, they should be brought to a fair trial without delay,” said Maximilienne C. Ngo Mbe, executive director of Central Africa Network of Human Rights Defenders (REDHAC in French).
The signatories have documented at least 40 cases of political activists arrested between October 2015 and December 2016 simply for having exercised their right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. Most of them are still detained and the vast majority are charged with "incitement of public unrest" and "undermining internal security".
For example, those arrested in connection with protests around the constitutional referendum include Paulin Makaya, president of the opposition political party United for Congo (UPC in French). He was sentenced to two years in prison for participating in a protest against the change in the constitution.
Although Makaya has finished serving his sentence since November 2017, the authorities refused to release him. Since January this year, they have charged him with new offenses of “breaching national security” and "complicity in unlawful possession of weapons and ammunitions of war’'.
Before and after the March 2016 presidential election, the authorities have arrested and charged more than 20 opposition leaders and members with ‘’incitement of public unrest", on the basis of the provisions of the national law on political parties which is in contradiction with international and regional laws signed by the country. At least 16 of them remain in detention.
Those arrested include André Okombi Salissa President of the opposition Convention for Action, Democracy and Development (CADD in French). In April 2016, Salissa was forced into hiding after he publicly declared that he did not recognize the results of the presidential election. He was then arrested in January 2017 and charged with "undermining internal security “and” unlawful possession of weapons of war'". He is still in detention, alongside campaigners and supporters of former candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, and at least two members of the Congolese Movement for Democracy and Integral Development (MCDDI).
"These spurious charges used to detain opponents and activists are an affront to the country’s commitments to respect free speech and peaceful protest. They do nothing to improve the political climate and provide no solution to ensure security or lasting peace in Congo,” said Loamba Moke, President of the Association for Human Rights and the Prison System (ADHUC).
According to information collected by the signatories, several detainees have been tortured. The Congolese authorities have so far taken no steps to investigate these allegations or put an end to the practice.
On 24 January 2017, Modeste Boukadia, president of the Circle of Democrats and Republicans of Congo (CDRC, opposition), arrested a year earlier, was admitted to a hospital in Pointe-Noire, after he was beaten up by prison guards. He suffered from two broken bones in his lower back, high blood pressure and a heart condition.
Noel Mienanzambi Boyi, president of the Association for the Culture of Peace and Non-violence and a local radio host, was also subjected to torture while in detention after being arrested in January 2017.
The international community, in particular the EU, can no longer ignore the repeated human rights violations in Congo, nor the lack of political will of its authorities to effectively combat impunity
"The international community, in particular the EU, can no longer ignore the repeated human rights violations in Congo, nor the lack of political will of its authorities to effectively combat impunity," said Laurent Duarte, Coordinator of "Tournons la Page''
"At all levels of its engagement with Congolese authorities, the international community including the EU and the UN, must do its utmost to ensure the Congolese authorities put an end to the arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and inhuman treatment inflicted on political activists," said Brice Mackosso, Permanent Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission (CEJP) in Pointe Noire.