CIVICUS

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Republic of the Congo

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 21.06.2018 at 08:54

Republic of the Congo-Overview

Civil society is a hugely contested space in the Republic of the Congo.

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Ras-le-Bol activists released after being detained for protesting and hanging posters

Ras-le-Bol activists released after being detained for protesting and hanging posters

Police arrested 23 members of the movement Ras-le-Bol for activities in their campaign to demand the release of political prisoners.

Association

Police arrested 23 members of the movement Ras-le-Bol for activities in their campaign to demand the release of political prisoners. On 7th May 2018, agents of the General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance arrested 20 of the movement's members in Point-Noire, while they were protesting in front of the Palais de Justice. Another three, including the movement's coordinator Frank Nzila, were arrested on 9th May in Brazzaville for hanging posters. The activists were accused of organising and participating in an unauthorised protest. 

Organisation Congolaise de Défense des Droits de L’homme (Congolese Organisation of the Defense of Human Tights - OCDH) commented on the last three arrests, stating that:

"Taping posters is a form of expression guaranteed by law and can not constitute an offense".

Laurent Duarte, coordinator of Tournons la Page, concluded:

"The arrest and detention of members of the Ras-le-bol movement show that the Congolese authorities do not tolerate any dissident voices and that the repression against political or civil society actors has never stopped since the presidential election".

The actions of the Ras-le-Bol movement took place at a time when general Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko stood trial on charges of undermining the internal security of the state and disturbance of public order, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison on 11th May by the Criminal Court of Brazzaville. Mokoko, former Chief of Staff and adviser to President Denis Sassou Nguesso, was a candidate in the presidential elections in March 2016, and was arrested three months later. 

Three activists in Brazzaville - Franck Nzila Malembé, Luce Bénédicte Gangoué and Dady Santso - were released on 6th June, and the three last activists who were arbitrarily detained - Julhphat Pregana, Franck Badiata and Vhan Kibamba - were released on 7th June.  

As reported previously on the Monitor, a platform of NGOs launched the campaign #OnNeVousOubliezPas# in October 2017 for the release of about 100 political prisoners who had been arbitrarily detained, especially around the constitutional referendum of 25th October 2015 and the presidential election of 2016. 

Expression

Journalist Fortunat Ngouolali of VoxTV was detained on 2nd June in Brazzaville after a deputy of the ruling presidential majority complained that Ngouolali recorded and then shared on social networks exchanges that had been made between two leaders of the Parti Congolais du Travail during a secret meeting. 

Association

Thousands of CSOs operate social support, advocacy and research projects right across the country. The authorities however regularly reject applications from organisations aiming to fight corruption or promote the rights of LGBTI people.

Thousands of CSOs operate social support, advocacy and research projects right across the country. The authorities however regularly reject applications from organisations aiming to fight corruption or promote the rights of LGBTI people. At the same time, many pro-government CSOs were registered to ‘counterbalance’ a civil society platform calling for presidential term limits to be respected during a constitutional referendum in 2015. Some CSOs also face threats, violence and other bureaucratic impediments to carrying out their work. In this context, a number of new citizen movements have emerged. Formed out of a sense of frustration amongst young people, these movements make effective use of social media and have support bases amongst the youth in urban areas. The Ras-Le-Bol citizen movement has been organising in poor areas of Brazzaville since 2013, running film screenings and other events to self-fund its activities. Its calls for far-reaching political reforms led to the arbitrary arrest of several of its leaders on charges of disrupting public order and conducting unauthorised demonstrations, before their release just prior to elections in 2016.


Peaceful Assembly in Republic of the Congo

A need for prior approval, arbitrary denials of permission and heavy handedness by police are some of the main barriers to the freedom of peaceful assembly in the Republic of the Congo.

A need for prior approval, arbitrary denials of permission and heavy handedness by police are some of the main barriers to the freedom of peaceful assembly in the Republic of the Congo. Protest organisers must get permission from the Ministry of the Interior or the police before gathering in public. In the case of pro-government or politically neutral events, these approvals are routinely granted. Protests aimed at calling for political change or criticising the authorities are regularly prevented by the authorities. Trade union marches and pickets are also tightly controlled. The police – both uniformed and in plainclothes – disrupt peaceful marches, sometimes using excessive force to disperse crowds. For example, student protests in June 2015 in Brazzaville were forcibly disrupted by the authorities, while similar treatment greeted protests calling for the constitution to be respected in the run up to elections in 2016.


Expression in Republic of the Congo

Section 19 of the 2002 constitution guarantees freedom of expression. However, its exercise is severely restricted by the authorities. The domestic media sector is dominated and controlled by the state, and many journalists working for private outlets practise self-censorship.

Section 19 of the 2002 constitution guarantees freedom of expression. However, its exercise is severely restricted by the authorities. The domestic media sector is dominated and controlled by the state, and many journalists working for private outlets practise self-censorship. All media organisations must register with the Conseil Supérieur de la Liberté de la Communication, which exercises constant censorship over the media. The authorities in Congo periodically suspend newspapers and radio stations for carrying content which is critical of the government. The consequences of independent reporting can also include violent attacks, as happened to Elijah Smith in September 2014 and three journalists covering the elections in 2016. People in the Republic of the Congo can access international media, which are widely disseminated throughout the country although citizens and journalists do not benefit from an access to information law, and obtaining official information from the government is a laborious process. While there is no formal limit on the Internet, the authorities closely monitor social networks and only 7% of people were online in 2014. During times of increased tension – for instance ahead of the controversial constitutional referendum in October 2015 – the authorities have imposed blocks on access to the Internet and prevented people from sending text messages in order to ‘prevent illegal reporting’ of election results.