Authorities in Congo-Brazzaville must immediately and unconditionally release an opposition leader arrested and detained for over two months simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.
Paulin Makaya, President of “Unis pour le Congo” (UPC), was arrested on 23 November 2015 while reporting for questioning at the office of the Public Prosecutor. He was charged with alleged crimes in relation to his participation in a protest held on 20 October in Brazzaville in opposition to amendments to the country’s constitution.
“The right to express political opinions and protest peacefully are fundamental human rights that should always be respected and protected, not least during election periods,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“Paulin Makaya and others detained for nothing more than exercising these rights should be released immediately and unconditionally.”
Amnesty International considers Paulin Makaya, as well as several others arrested during the same period, to be prisoners of conscience detained simply for peacefully exercising their right to express their political views.
The right to express political opinions and protest peacefully are fundamental human rights that should always be respected and protectedAlioune Tine Amnesty International Regional Director for West and Central Africa
The treatment of Paulin Makaya has also contravened a number of international fair trial standards as well as national legislation. He has been questioned several times without his lawyer, detained for seven days without being charged or brought before a court, and his bail application – finally denied on 20 January – took seven weeks rather than the five days prescribed by Congolese law.
Among the charges levelled against Paulin Makaya are that of incitement to disturb public order, unlawful possession of weapons of war and ammunitions and complicity to commit arson.
“All charges against Paulin Makaya should be dropped and as national elections approach, the authorities should promote and facilitate peaceful protest and respect the expression of different views,” said Alioune Tine.
On 20 October 2015, security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at protesters in Brazzaville demonstrating against the proposed changes to the Republic of Congo’s Constitution. A referendum was held on 25 October 2015 to give way for, amongst other things, the current President to run for a third term in office in 2016.
The referendum was preceded by demonstrations organised in Brazzaville, Pointe Noire and across other towns to express dissent over the proposed changes to the constitution. Clashes between security forces and protesters led to the death of at least 16 protesters and bystanders in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire alone.
Ahead of the referendum, the right to freedom of expression was also severely curtailed with mobile internet services, text messaging and the transmission signal of some radio stations being cut in Brazzaville.
The presidential election which was initially scheduled for July 2016, will now be held on 20 March.