Media Statement on Democratic Republic of Congo: CIVICUS urges AU to act on the first anniversary of the imprisonment of youth activists

On the first anniversary of the detention of Congolese youth activists, Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala, global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the African Union (AU) to demand their immediate and unconditional release, along with several other imprisoned civil society activists.

“The overall environment for civil society in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is highly disenabling, in blatant breach of African Union commitments,” said David Kode, Senior Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “Several activists are in prison on fabricated charges for their peaceful civil society activities in defence of human and democratic rights guaranteed by the AU Charter.” 

The arrests of Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala exactly one year ago occurred under dramatic circumstances. On 15 March 2015, security officials from the Agence Nationale de Renseignement (ANR) - National Intelligence Agency and men in military uniforms barged into a press conference organised at a youth centre in Kinshasa to launch the Filimbi movement, a youth forum created to inspire and educate young people in DRC to perform their civic duties.  

The two were arrested together with 28 other activists from Senegal and Burkina Faso, international journalists, and a diplomat. Security officials later released the others, but held Bauma and Makwambala incommunicado at the ANR detention centre for more than a month, later moving them to the Kinshasa Central Prison where they are currently detained. 

Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala face charges of association with an organisation formed to incite people to take up arms against the state and attack people and property, as well as conspiracy against the head of state. They remain in detention, even though a parliamentary committee formed on 27 March 2015 to examine the manner in which the security forces handled their case reported that it found no evidence that the Filimbi leaders and workshop participants were planning a terrorist act or involved in violent actions. 

Since January 2015, the authorities in the DRC have used arrests and detention as a strategy to silence human rights defenders and members of the political opposition who speak out against a third term bid for President Joseph Kabila and against the arbitrary postponement of elections scheduled for November 2016.  

“Peaceful protests are being brutally repressed and human rights defenders and opposition figures are routinely arrested and accused of incitement, attempting to distabilise the state and for insulting the President,” said Kode. “The case of Bauma and Makawambala is emblematic of the deep rooted impunity with which the Congolese state is presently functioning.” 

Most recently, on 24 February 2016, six more youth activists from Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA - The Struggle for Change) movement were sentenced to two years in jail on charges of attempting to incite public disobedience. To date at least 19 civil society activists from the Filimbi and Lucha movements are in jail for simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.  

CIVICUS urges the African Union to engage Congolese President Joseph Kabila to immediately release Fred Bauma, Yves Makawambala, and all other imprisoned civil society members.  Individuals can add their voices to the #FreeFred and #FreeYves social media campaigns.