CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Last updated on 19.12.2018 at 10:52

DRC Overview

Political tension and the persistence of violent conflict in the east of the country continue to severely impair civic space in the DRC.

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Arbitrary arrests of pro-democracy activists ahead of 23rd December elections

Arbitrary arrests of pro-democracy activists ahead of 23rd December elections

Read our comprehensive roundup of civic space conditions in the DRC with just days to go until elections on 23rd December.

Peaceful Assembly

Police violently disperse student protests: two students killed

On 12th November 2018, students from the University of Kinsasha (UNIKIN) protested to demand the resumption of courses as professors at the university had been on a strike since 8th October 2018. Police officers, who were called in by university authorities, used live ammunition to disperse the student protest. One student, Hyacinthe Kimbafu, was shot and later died of her injuries at the university hospital on 15th November. The announcement of her death sparked a fresh protest, involving hundreds of students, on 16th November. Police officers used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the students, leaving another person dead and at least seven people injured. Describing the events, one protester told RFI: 

"The police were shooting as if they were on a war field. Students ran at every turn. It was general panic." (translated from French)

On 19th November 2018, about 100 students again protested at the University of Kinsasha. The students gave the government 48 hours to meet their demands: the resumption of courses and justice for the two students that were killed during the student protests on 12th and 16th November 2018. 

Authorities blamed the death of Kimbafu on an "uncontrolled" police officer who fired live ammunition. They further said that the police officer was arrested and will be prosecuted. 

Opposition gatherings and protests violently dispersed

On 17th December 2018, Human Rights Watch reported that security forces had killed at least seven people during opposition gatherings between 9th and 13th December 2018. More than 50 people were injured and scores of opposition supporters were arrested during the course of these rallies. On 11th December, at least five people were killed when security forces dispersed and blocked supporters of presidential opposition candidate Martin Fayulu in Lubumbashi. The following day, security forces used live ammunition to disperse Fayulu's supporters in Kalemie, killing one person. On 13th December 2018, one person was killed as opposition candidate Félix Tshisekedi arrived in Mbuji-Mayi.

Some opposition gatherings and rallies have also been banned by authorities. For example, an opposition gathering planned for 13th October 2018 in Lubumbashi was banned on security grounds, after having first been authorised.

Protests against the use of voting machines

On 26th October 2018, protests took place in several cities throughout the country, having been called by several opposition parties . Although no incidents were reported in Kinshasa, Bukavu and Goma, the protests in Mbuyi-Mayi, Kisangani and Kananga were either banned or had security forces deployed to prevent protests from taking place. In Lubumbashi, clashes between protesters and police and arrests of protesters were reported, although the number remains unknown.

Protests against insecurity

On 11th October 2018, teachers held a sit-in in front of the governor's cabinet in Bukavu to protest against insecurity in schools. The protesters said that more than 25 schools have been visited by armed criminals. On 12th October 2018, teachers from public and Catholic schools in Béni in North Kivu, who are members of trade unions Synecat and Syeco went on a strike to protest against insecurity after clashes between Congolese soldiers and presumed rebels of ADF took place on 8th October 2018.

In a separate incident on 8th November 2018, police arrested four students in Béni, as they tried to hold a meeting at the Nyamwisi roundabout to denounce the killings and insecurity in Béni. According to news portal  Actualité.cd, police accused the four of "incitement to revolt". In Goma, a student protest, organised in solidarity with the student protest in Béni against the increasing insecurity, was dispersed by police who used tear gas. According to media reports, several people were arrested, but students vowed additional actions if their colleagues are not released. One protester told Actualité.cd:

"We are asking for peace, not only in Beni but throughout North Kivu and throughout the country. If the students are not released and if peace and academic activities do not resume in Beni, there will be large-scale actions that will be carried out, not only in Goma but throughout the country." (translated from French)

Protest against the arrest of journalist Peter Tiani

A protests also recently took place to demand the release of journalist Peter Tiani (see Expression section below) and the end of the judicial harassment of journalists. On 9th November 2018, tens of journalists demonstrated in Kinsasha, bearing placards such as 'Free Tiani'.

CENCO report: at least five people died in protests between April and October 2018

On 19th September 2018, the Commission of Peace and Justice of CENCO (Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo) released a report on protests between April and October 2018. According to the report, at least five people died during protests in this period. Additionally, 91 people were injured, and at least 362 arrests took place. Security forces used live ammunition to disperse protesters in 43 percent of the protests. While CENCO says that the situation in terms of peaceful assembly improved in Kinsasha, this has not been the case for DRC's other provinces. Secretary general of CENCO Donatien Nshole said to RFI:

"We are beginning a very important phase of the electoral process in which the right to freedom of demonstration will have to be sacred, where the peaceful nature of the demonstrations will have to be enshrined." (translated from French)

Expression

Arrests and prosecution of journalists

On 7th November 2018, authorities arrested Peter Tiani, director of Le Vrai Journal, a programme broadcast on Canal Congo Télévision. Tiani was charged with “defamation, slander and damaging accusations”, following a complaint by Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala. The charges relate to Tiani having relayed an article, from ScoopRDC.net, which related to money that allegedly went missing at the house of the Prime Minister. 

Philippe Leruth of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said

"If a reporter disseminates incorrect information, the most common procedure is to ask him to correct this information, as his code of ethics requires. And, in case of refusal, to seize a disciplinary or deontological authority. Imprisoning a journalist is an unacceptable measure, totally contrary to the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, and at the same time worrying in the pre-electoral climate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. IFJ calls for immediate and unconditional release of Peter Tiani." (translated from French)

Tiani was released on 15th December 2018 after a payment of 500,000 Congolese francs (310 USD). 

On 19th October 2018, police in Kinshasa arrested five journalists from the tri-weekly publication AfricaNews - Octave Mukendi, Laurent Omba, Bruce Landu, Roddy Bosakwa and Dan Luyila. The director of the news outlet connected the arrests to an article published on 12th October, which reported on an internal police investigation into alleged corruption with food rations to student police officers. Police officers had previously visited the AfricaNews offices shortly after the publication of the article, an incident that editor Achille Kadima had reported to the head of the police department of internal affairs, according to the editor who spoke with Reporters without Borders (RSF). The five were released later that day, without conditions, after twelve hours in detention. 

On 10th October 2018,  journalist and editor of the weekly La Percée Sylvanie Kiaku was arrested in Kinshasa by judicial police. A day later Kiaku was charged with criminal defamation of representatives of the Banque commerciale du Congo (Commercial Bank of Congo). According to the NGO Observatoire de la liberté de la presse en Afrique (OLPA, Observatory of Press Freedom in Africa)  the charges relate to two articles the weekly published on the consequences faced by employees of the bank that have been laid off in the past few years in a restructuring and the indifference of leadership at the bank. On 7th November 2018, the Peace Tribunal of Kinshasa/ Gombe sentenced Kiaku to three months in prison and the symbolic payment of 50 Congolese francs to the director-general of the bank, said OLPA. 

On 6th September 2018, police officers arrested the director of satirical newspaper Le Grognon, Tharcisse Zongia. The High Court of Kinshasa/ Kalamu sentenced Zongia in absentia to one year in prison for "damaging accusations" in November 2016. Zongia remained free pending his appeal, according to information received by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The conviction relate to the article  "Les petits secrets noirs de la CAN 2015 : Barthélemy Okito, un prédateur à mettre hors d’état de nuire", published in 2015, accusing Barthelemy Okito, secretary general of the sports ministry, of misappropriating funds meant for the national football team. Angela Quintal of CPJ commented: 

"It is outrageous that 22 months after Tharcisse Zongia's conviction for defamation, he was arrested even though his appeal before a higher court is still pending. The government in the DRC must abolish criminal defamation in line with international precedent and not resort to jailing journalists when civil remedies are available."

Closure of media outlets close to opposition

On 28th November 2018, the public prosecutor's office in Bukavu ordered the closure of radio station Radio Iriba FM, based in Bukavu, South Kivu, according to press freedom NGO Journaliste en Danger. When the director of the radio station, Prisca Bukaraba, asked the prosecutor's office for the reasons behind the closure, she was told it was the execution of an order from above. The radio station is owned by a journalist who is now an opposition party candidate.

On 9th October 2018, police officers entered two other media outlets which are aligned to the opposition, interrupting the broadcasts and sealing the offices on the orders of the mayor of Lisala and member of the ruling party, Bruce Bika Malambo. Radio Liberté Lisala and Radio Mwana Mboka (Rammbo), both based in Lisala, in the province of Mongala, are respectively owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba and Crispin Bungdu, who is close to Moïse Katumbi. Both Bemba and Katumbi were barred or prevented from running as presidential candidates, as reported previously on the Monitor. The mayor accused both radio stations of having aired, on 6th October, a statement by Bienvenu Moyengo, an opposition member and president of the provincial assembly, calling citizens to boycott paying taxes due to poor service delivery. Malambo told CPJ that he accuses both radio stations of inciting civil disobedience. Both radio stations started broadcasting again on 27th November 2018, after a decision of the provincial government, said Observatoire de la Liberté de la Presse en Afrique (OLPA).

Annual report press freedom NGO Journaliste en Danger (JED)

In November 2018, Congolese press freedom NGO Journaliste en Danger (JED) published its annual report for 2018: 'Les élections de tous les dangers pour les journalistes' (Elections of all dangers for journalists). The organisation registered 121 cases of attacks on press freedom between 3rd November 2017 and 2nd of November 2018. 44 percent of those attacks were perpetrated by security forces (police, army, National Intelligence Agency,...) while 33 percent of attacks were carried out by political and administrative authorities. At least 30 journalists have been subject to attacks or threats, while 54 journalists were detained or imprisoned due to their work during the year. The report also notes a high degree of self-censorship among journalists and impunity for attacks against journalists. Additionally, authorities have not taken any action to improve respect for freedom of expression in DRC, in law and practice, nor to tackle widespread impunity.

Association

Arbitrary detention of pro-democracy activists for raising awareness on elections

On 14th December 2018, six activists from social movement LUCHA were arrested in Kinshasa, while conducting awareness raising in the community of Masina in the context of LUCHA's pre-election campaign “balayer les médiocres” (sweep the mediocre). On 1st November, security forces arrested 16 youth activists of the pro-democracy social movement Vigilance Citoyenne (VICI-RDC) in Kinshasa while they were on an anti “vote-buying” awareness raising campaign. Another VICI activist, Benjamin Kabemba, was arrested when he visited the 16 other activists at the police station. On 8th November, the activists were charged with “incitement to civil disobedience”, but were provisionally released on bail on 18th November. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) some of them were beaten while in detention.

On 10th November, unknown armed men abducted LUCHA activist Trésor Kambere Muyisa in Goma, according to a press statement release by the social movement. He was detained and tortured for three days before being released. Kambere, who spoke with Human Rights Watch said: "he told me, ‘I can decide about your future, whether you’ll live or die. You must not continue to destabilize the institutions of the republic. You have one choice at the moment.” During a protest in Goma to demand the release of Kambere on 12th November 2018, four other activists were arrested. The four were released the next evening.

Ida Sawyer of HRW commented on the arrests of activists:

"Congolese authorities are undermining the electoral process by arresting and mistreating activists, journalists, and other dissidents for peacefully expressing their views or simply doing their jobs. With long-awaited elections just over a month away, it’s crucial for all Congolese to be able to freely exercise their basic civil liberties.”"

Seven activists of Les congolais debout released

On 8th December 2018, seven activists from the social movement Les congolais debout were released after spending almost 3 months in detention. The seven were arrested by security services in September 2018 close to the University of Kinshasa while mobilising against the use of voting machines, as reported previously on the Monitor.

Report on torture of activists and political opposition in detention

UK based NGO Freedom from Torture published its report "A Tool to Silence: Torture to Crush Dissent in the Democratic Republic of Congo" outlining how authorities have used torture and rape as a tool to punish perceived activists, protesters and members or supporters of political opposition while arbitrarily detained for their activism and dissent. The report, based on 74 medico-legal reports of Congolese nationals who have been in detention and have been subject to torture in DRC between 2013 and 2018 and have subsequently fled to the United Kingdom. Some were targeted for supporting civil society groups such as the social movement Filimbi, or were active in the area of human rights, including on women’s rights issues. Others were perceived to be involved in political opposition groups or human rights activities. None of those had a high profile, and most come from DRC's capital, Kinshasa, far from conflict zones. Perpetrators of the arbitrary detentions and torture came from different branches of state security institutions - police, military and national intelligence agencies. Among the 74 cases of torture, 49 victims were women. Sonya Sceat of Freedom of Torture said to RFI:

"There really seems to be a particular pressure on women's rights and on women who are political activists in opposition or who are surrounded by men who campaign. It is quite striking that there are so many women among the cases we treat, and that so many of them have been targeted because of their commitment. This contrasts with the idea that one has abroad who are survivors of torture in the DRC, the idea that they are simply quidams [unknown or inconsequential persons], caught in the violence of the conflict zones, in their village, etc. ... The image of the woman who survived the torture that emerge from our study is very different. It is a woman who is autonomous, targeted by the torturers precisely because she makes her voice heard to demand a change in her country. " (translated from French)

Association in DRC

Registering a civil society organisation in the DRC is an extremely bureaucratic process. Organisations must seek approval from both the relevant sectoral ministry and the Ministry of Justice.

Registering a civil society organisation in the DRC is an extremely bureaucratic process. Organisations must seek approval from both the relevant sectoral ministry and the Ministry of Justice. CSOs are then required to work according to the government’s various development policies. Although most civil society organisations in the DRC focus on local or public service delivery issues, those promoting human rights and democracy are subject to close monitoring and sometimes harassment. Foreign CSOs face even higher bureaucratic hurdles and are required to sign specific agreements with government ministries before starting work. Faced with such a strict regulatory environment for civil society, newly-formed social movements such as Lucha, Telema and Ingeta have emerged, taking a less formalised approach to organising and campaigning for social change in the DRC. The state has responded to the popularity of these new movements with force and through the arrest and imprisonment of some of their leaders.

Peaceful Assembly in DRC

The organisers of public demonstrations in the DRC are required to obtain approval from local government in advance, and protests that do not meet this requirement are regularly prevented from taking place.

The organisers of public demonstrations in the DRC are required to obtain approval from local government in advance, and protests that do not meet this requirement are regularly prevented from taking place. Spontaneous demonstrations, particularly those with a political focus, are rarely tolerated. In January 2015, protests erupted in Kinshasa and Goma against the head of state’s attempts to delay elections and extend his term in office beyond December 2016. Police responded violently, firing into crowds with live ammunition. Reports of casualties varied but most estimates say at least 42 people died. Protests continue across the country in 2016, as police used tear gas against demonstrators in Lubumbashi.

Expression in DRC

People in the DRC take serious risks when openly expressing opinions, particularly when those views conflict with the government’s official line. Violence, intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrests, and judicial proceedings on trumped up charges are common tools used to suppress dissent.

People in the DRC take serious risks when openly expressing opinions, particularly when those views conflict with the government’s official line. Violence, intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrests, and judicial proceedings on trumped up charges are common tools used to suppress dissent. Many journalists and human rights defenders from the DRC have been violently attacked and many others forced to flee and live in exile as a consequence of expressing their opinions in public. HRDs have reported receiving threats from unidentified sources because of the work they do. The state also limits free expression by exercising strict control over sources of information. For example, the information minister recently called for the closure of some community radio stations because they had aired views critical of the government. During citizen protests in 2015, the state closed down two TV stations, text messaging and Internet services. The state also restricts press freedom by using criminal defamation and libel laws to target journalists and media houses.