Democratic Republic of Congo’s authorities must immediately and unconditionally release 10 youth activists who are facing malicious charges solely for participating in a peaceful protest to demand the protection of civilians in Beni Town, Amnesty International said today ahead of their sentencing by a military court on 20 January.
Eight of the 10 activists, belonging to the youth movement, Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA), were arrested in Beni on 19 December after they staged a protest to denounce what they see as the UN peacekeeping force’s failure to protect civilians in the area. Two other activists, also belonging to LUCHA, were arrested in Beni on 7 January, during a peaceful protest against a new taxation on motorcycle taxis.
“The arrests and subsequent prosecutions of these youth activists for merely asking for the protection of civilians in Beni is a travesty and amounts to persecution. This persecution contravenes the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“Instead of persecuting them, Congolese authorities ought to have appropriately responded to their demands for effective protection of civilians against ongoing killings and kidnappings in the affected areas. The authorities must drop all charges against them.”
The eight activists are facing charges of “wicked destruction and sabotage” and have been languishing in prison since 19 December. Their hearing started on 21 December before the Beni-Butembo garrison military court. According to the prosecution, they are being tried by a military court because the destruction and sabotage they are accused of would have occurred inside police facilities, which the activists and witnesses say is a “complete fabrication”.
During their arrest and detention, the activists were subjected to beatings by police officers and other inmates. Efforts by their lawyers to challenge the competence of the military jurisdiction on their case were rejected.
The court is expected to pronounce its verdict on Wednesday 20 January 2021. The prosecution last week requested 10 years’ imprisonment against them.
The eight activists are:
Mumbere Sikuli Délivrance, a 20-year-old high school student;
Mukirania Consolée, a 25-year-old businesswoman;
Kasereka Muhetsya Ezée, a 20-year-old high school student;
Kakule Mutsuva Clovis, a 27-year-old law graduate;
Nzila Patrick, an 18-year-old high school student;
Muhindo Aziz, a 32-year-old moto taxi driver;
Lwanzo Kasereka Kahongya, a 34-year-old carpenter;
Mbusa Elie, a 24-year-old moto taxi driver.
Two other LUCHA activists were arrested in the town of Beni on 7 January, during a peaceful protest against a new tax on motorcycle taxis. Jeanpy Lufungula and Grace Matembela have since been unlawfully detained. They are yet to be brought before a judge to face formal charges.
“Authorities must drop cynical charges against these activists and respect, protect and ensure the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as enshrined in the Constitution and international human rights treaties to which the DRC is a state party,” said Sarah Jackson.
“The Congolese authorities, under the leadership of President Félix Tshisekedi whose start of office in 2019 was marked by some human rights progress, must stop treating peaceful dissent with contempt. The government should not go back to the days of the Kabila government when LUCHA activists and others were routinely arrested and arbitrary detained.”
Since 2014, thousands of civilians have been killed in repeated attacks the authorities attribute to the Ugandan militant group, the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) in eastern DRC’s Beni region. Despite a heavy UN and Congolese army presence in the region and multiple military operations, killings and abduction continue almost daily. Activists have accused both the Congolese authorities and the UN of failing to protect the population. Their demands for effective protection and justice have often been met with a brutal crackdown.