Rights group says DRC opposition under assault

Kinshasa, DRC (PANA) – Government security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo used live ammunition and teargas to disperse largely peaceful political opposition rallies during candidate registration in early August 2018, Human Rights Watch has said in a report released on Tuesday.

Authorities also restricted the movement of opposition leaders, arrested dozens of opposition supporters, and prevented one presidential aspirant, Moïse Katumbi, from entering the country to file his candidacy for the presidential election scheduled for later this year, the human rights watchdog said.

“Congolese authorities have firmly clamped down on the political opposition in an apparent attempt to control the electoral process,” said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Elections can’t be credible when an opposition leader is banned from participating and opposition supporters risk death, injury, or arrest just for going out on the streets to peacefully support their leaders.”

The report said findings are based on personal and phone interviews in August with more than 45 victims and witnesses of violations, medical workers, activists, and Congolese political party members and leaders in Kinshasa, Goma, and Brussels, Belgium.

Human Rights Watch said the Congolese government should end the excessive use of force against opposition supporters, release arbitrarily detained opposition party members and activists, and investigate serious violations and appropriately hold those responsible to account.

The authorities should allow all Congolese to fully and freely participate in the electoral process, including by permitting Katumbi to enter the country and register as a candidate, it said.

Concerned governments and regional bodies should press President Joseph Kabila and other senior officials to end the repression of the opposition and to ensure that the electoral process is free, fair, and inclusive. The governments and regional bodies should expand targeted sanctions if grave human rights violations continue.

Human Rights Watch said on 1 August 1, security forces fired teargas and live ammunition to disperse tens of thousands of supporters who had gathered to welcome the opposition leader and former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba in the capital, Kinshasa, wounding at least two people.

Bemba returned to Congo to register as a presidential candidate after an International Criminal Court (ICC) appeals chamber overturned his war crimes and crimes against humanity convictions on 8 June. Soon after Bemba arrived in Kinshasa, security forces blocked him from going to his residence in Kinshasa’s  Gombe neighbourhood. The authorities claimed his home was in a “presidential zone” that was off limits.

On 2 August, the mayor of Lubumbashi, in southeastern Congo, issued a written statement that Katumbi would not be authorised to land at the Lubumbashi airport by private plane, as he had requested.

Katumbi, who has been living in exile for the past two years due to a series of politically motivated judicial procedures, travelled instead to Zambia and attempted to enter Congo by road at the Kasumbalesa border crossing on 3 August. Congolese authorities warned Katumbi that they would immediately arrest him upon his arrival in Congo. But when Katumbi reached the border, officials instead shut down the border and denied him entry.

The report said security forces fired live ammunition and teargas to disperse the thousands of supporters who came to welcome Katumbi on the Congolese side of the border on 3 August, killing at least one person and wounding one other. Dozens of supporters were arrested. Security forces also deployed massively across parts of Lubumbashi and erected roadblocks on major roads, where they systematically searched vehicles.

Police also stopped members of parliament and other officials from Katumbi’s political coalition as they drove toward Lubumbashi’s airport, where they were expecting Katumbi to land.

“As we tried to pass, a police officer pointed his gun at us and threatened to shoot us if we dared to continue,” one official told Human Rights Watch. “He said he was executing orders from his superiors,” the official said. When the delegation later tried to travel to Kasumbalesa to meet Katumbi there, police stopped them at a roadblock just outside of town and forced them to turn around.

Human Rights Watch said over the past three years, Congolese government and ruling party officials and government security forces have used repression, violence, and corruption to extend their hold on power. President Joseph Kabila remains in office beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit in December 2016.

It said security forces have killed nearly 300 people during largely peaceful political protests since 2015, including by recruiting former fighters from the abusive M23 armed group to take part in the crackdown. Security services have arrested hundreds of political opposition supporters and pro-democracy and human rights activists. The intelligence services mistreated many of them and held them in illegal detention for weeks or months, without charge or access to their families or lawyers. Others were put on trial on trumped-up charges.

A Catholic Church-mediated power-sharing agreement signed on December 31, 2016, and known as the “New Year’s Eve agreement,” called for elections by the end of 2017 and for “confidence building measures” to ease tensions and open political space.

Congo’s ruling coalition has largely flouted these commitments, as repression continues, and many political prisoners and activists remain in detention. In November 2017, the electoral commission published an electoral calendar setting 23 December 2018, as the date for presidential, legislative, and provincial elections.
-0- PANA MA 28Aug2018

28 august 2018 07:19:32

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