Democratic Republic of Congo state agents have been accused of cracking down on those calling for President Joseph Kabila to step down in November next year, when his constitutional two terms end.
A new report by Amnesty International released on November 26 says the opposition, religious leaders and activists are being targeted for speaking out or peacefully mobilising protests against President Kabila’s intention for a third term in office.
The report shows a pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) and trials based on trumped-up or illegitimate charges violating the rights to liberty and freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“The ANR, which reports directly to President Kabila, has arbitrarily arrested opposition leaders and activists, seemingly in a bid to silence them, and consistently violated the human rights of those arrested,” says the report titled Treated like criminals: DRC’s race to silence dissent in the run-up to elections.
President Kabila’s plans for 2016 remain unclear as he has confirmed neither his intention to step down nor to vie for re-election. Delays in the preparation of the elections have heightened concerns that the president or those close to him may put the electoral calendar on hold, which could trigger a constitutional crisis.
READ: DR Congo President Kabila accused of delaying tactics
In January, talk of the possibility of President Kabila’s stay in office beyond 2016 triggered protests and arrests. Security forces put down the protests with excessive force, arresting several hundred people who were mostly released without charge in the following weeks.
According to researcher Sarah Jackson, the justice system has become instrumental in the crackdown against those speaking out against a third term by President Kabila. She said political opposition leaders and activists have been arbitrarily arrested by the ANR and convicted by courts that flout Congolese, African and international human-rights standards.
“Lessons should be learnt from Burkina Faso and Burundi, where mass protests were sparked by incumbents attempting to extend constitutional term limits, creating longer-term crises,” said Ms Jackson.
A controversial Bill tabled before the National Assembly in January is widely perceived as an attempt to delay the legislative and presidential elections by linking them to a time-consuming census that would go beyond election time next November.
The report is based on interviews with family members and defence lawyers of the eight political detainees whose cases are documented in the report, victims of arbitrary arrests, government officials, representatives of national and international human-rights organisations, United Nations officials and foreign diplomats.
Three politicians whose cases are documented in the report were arrested after speaking out publicly against President Kabila vying for a third term.
One of them, Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, an MP and secretary-general of the opposition Union pour la Nation Congolaise (UNC) party, was sentenced to one year in prison for insulting the head of state, the presidents of the Senate and the National Assembly and the prime minister.
Jean-Claude Muyambo and Vano Kiboko were both part of the ruling coalition when they spoke out against a third term. Mr Kiboko was sentenced to three years in prison following a trial riddled with irregularities. The trial against Jean-Claude Muyambo is ongoing.
Human-rights defender Christopher Ngoyi, who was monitoring the use of excessive force during the protests, was arrested by the ANR and held in incommunicado detention for 21 days. His trial, allegedly based on charges for which there is no legal basis, continues.
Opposition leaders Ernest Kyaviro and Cyrille Dowe were arrested during the January protests and held incommunicado in ANR detention, with the exception of sporadic visits by their spouses. While Mr Kyaviro was sentenced to three years in prison, Mr Dowe was acquitted in October.
“Even after individuals have been belatedly handed over to the regular justice system, their fair trial rights continue to be violated as the courts reject requests for provisional liberty without a proper justification, in contravention of Congolese law,” says the report.
SOURCE: THE EAST AFRICAN