9 APRIL 2015. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is experiencing brutal suppression of dissent and fundamental freedoms linked to presidential elections next year. With intensifying pressure on President Joseph Kabila to not seek another term after 14 years in power, DRC authorities are targeting civil society activists and journalists.
At least 30 individuals, including members of the media and civil society, were arrested on 15 March following a press conference in the capital, Kinshasa. The press conference was preceded by a workshop on youth engagement and political processes organised by Filimbi, an organisation working to strengthen civic action. At least 5 human rights activists remain in secret detention.
The latest arrests send a message that authorities do not tolerate dissent, and will not allow an open debate on issues related to elections and civic engagement. Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are now firmly at stake in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and Amnesty International are calling on the international community and African leaders in particular to not ignore the on-going political crisis and persecution of dissenters in the DRC, as the continued violations of fundamental rights and shrinking civic space in the country could snowball into a major crisis.
Amnesty International is calling on the public to join their campaign for the release of the youth still held in secret detention somewhere in Kinshasa and also to stand firm against any measures that infringe fundamental rights.
Before the above incident, security forces violently disrupted demonstrations against controversial amendments to the electoral law passed by the National Assembly in January this year. The ruling majority was suspected of tying legislative and presidential elections to a general census which would have extended President Kabila’s term beyond December 2016. Peaceful assemblies were organised across the country between the 19 - 21 January and some protests turned violent in some cities, including Kinshasa and Goma, during which dozens were killed and more than 300 arrested and detained on questionable grounds of fomenting “public disorder.”
Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba, president of the civil society organisation Synergie Congo Culture et Développement, was arrested and held in secret detention for 20 days. He is currently standing trial and faces a possible 20 year jail term. Moreover, a blackout on internet services and SMS facilities was also imposed on 20 January by the Congolese authorities, infringing on people’s right to information. In November, a number of radio and television stations were taken off air by the DRC Government.
Following the above, CIVICUS and Amnesty International call on the Government of DRC to:
- End the secret detention of the youth, disclose their whereabouts and release them immediately - unless they are charged with a recognisable criminal offense;
- Immediately grant authorisation for family and lawyers to visit the youth in secret detention;
- Uphold the fundamental right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without fear of intimidation or harassment;
- Ensure that Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba’s right to a fair trial is fully respected in accordance with international law and standards;
- Stop using arbitrary arrests and secret detentions to hinder people from exercising their human rights;
- Uphold the right to information and lift the ban on radio and TV stations that were taken off air;
- Promptly accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and recognise the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims or other state parties.