New president, new era for civic space?
On 30th December 2018, general elections (presidential, legislative and provincial) finally took place in the DRC. Initially planned for 23rd December, the elections were postponed by a week with the national electoral commission citing a range of reasons, including logistical and security issues. The decision to postpone the elections in the areas of Beni, Butembo and Yumbi for three months due to the Ebola outbreak and insecurity, thereby excluding more than 1.2 million people from the poll, sparked protests in Goma and Beni which were met with tear gas and warning shots. As the DRC awaited the announcement of the official results of the presidential elections, authorities cut off access to the internet for 20 days and blocked the broadcasting signals of two media outlets, RFI and TV station CCTV, for having published unofficial election results. The announcement of the official election results on 10th January 2019, declaring Félix Tshisekedi the new president of the DRC, sparked opposition protests, with at least 10 deaths, as the official results conflicted with observations made by the Catholic Church, who deployed a mission of 40,000 electoral observers, and leaked data from CENI, both indicating that opposition leader Martin Fayulu led the polls. In his inauguration speech on 24th January 2019, president Tshisekedi pledged, among other things, to 'ensure that every citizen is guaranteed the respect of the exercise of their fundamental rights’ and the release of political prisoners and prisoners of opinion. Additionally, he announced the promotion of the press, including turning the media into a 'real fourth estate' as among the priorities of his government.
On 26th August 2019, the new government was finally announced, after months of negotiations between president Tshisekedi's coalition Cap pour le changement (Cach) and the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC) of former president Joseph Kabila, who retains a majority in the National Assembly. The new government under Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga, consisting of 66 posts and 17 percent women, will be presented to the National Assembly on 7th Sepember 2019 for approval. Prior to the formation of the government, in May 2019, several CSOs deposed a petition at the presidency with at least 16,000 signatures asking him to refrain from nominating any person accused of human rights violations or economic crimes, while about 20 women's organisations asked him to ensure a better representation of women in the government.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Jean Claude Katende, leader of the fight for human rights and transparency, is facing serious death threats.— Publish What You Pay (@PWYPtweets) June 25, 2019
Read our statement: https://t.co/AEKXhzSkVW#civicspace #OurSpaceOurRight pic.twitter.com/qeSdv7kraM
HRD and president of the organisation Association africaine des droits de l’Homme (ASADHO; African Association of Human Rights), Jean-Claude Katende received death threats on 11th, 15th and 18th June 2019 by telephone with a hidden number. Katende has been advocating for the release of Eddy Kapend, who has been imprisoned for more than 18 years for the murder of Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 2001, and seeking justice for the murder - in 2010 - of HRDs Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana.
Release of political prisoners
According to the Ministry of Justice, in early May 2019, 574 political prisoners had been released. 385 were released through a presidential pardon, 142 were conditionally released, and about 50 through the amnesty law, which was approved in 2014 but only partially implemented. President Tshisekedi promised the release of 700 political prisoners and prisoners of opinion in his inauguration speech on 24th January 2019.
Filimbi activist abducted after campaigning against the increase of university fees
On 10th March 2019, activist Chilassy Bofumbo of social movement Filimbi was found tied up on a road in the vicinity of the University of Mbandaka, said Filimbi. The coordinator of Filimbi for the Équateur Province had gone missing on 5th March 2019, after a meeting he had with the university administration. Bofumbo, an IT student at the Institut supérieur pédagogique (ISP) of Mbandaka, was summoned by the academic secretary of ISP after Bofumbo started a campaign on social media on 3rd March 2019 against increasing ISP fees .
Protests against insecurity in eastern DRC: three people killed
Around 100 young protesters gathered in front of the presidential palace in Kinshasa on 19th August 2019, against insecurity in eastern DRC. On the same day, a 'ville morte' action was organised by the group 'La Veranda Mutsanga' against insecurity and the killing of civilians in the cities of Beni and Butembo and the municipality of Oicha. In Oicha, three people, including a child, were killed when security officers used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the protesters. Police officials said that some of the protesters carried weapons, and nine police officers were injured. According to media reports, at least 74 people were arrested in Beni, Burembo and Oicha.
According to Human Rights Watch and the Congo Research Group, armed groups killed 1,900 people and abducted more than 3,300 people between June 2017 and June 2019 in North and South Kivu. The report 'Congo, Forgotten: The Numbers Behind Africa's Longest Humanitarian Crisis', using data from their joint project Kivu Security Tracker, said that more than 3,000 violent incidents by more than 130 armed groups were recorded.
Opposition protests in June 2019: one protester killed
The governor of Kinshasa banned a protest by the opposition platform Lamuka, planned for 30th June 2019, DRC's independence day, to demand 'respect of the will of the people'. In a letter to the coordinator of Lamuka in Kinshasa, governor Gentiny Ngobila said he was 'unable to take note' of the request to protest as 30th of June is a 'commemorative and sacred' date, and organising any marches on that date would be 'sabotage against the memory of the Republic'. Additionally, the head of the police forces in Kinshasa warned that 'any gathering of more than 10 people will be dispersed this Sunday 30th June'. Despite the ban, hundreds of supporters joined opposition leaders Martin Fayulu and Adolphe Muzito in the march, and police officers dispersed demonstrators, using tear gas, in Nd’jili. Several protesters were arrested, and all were released but one protester, who stands accused of having brutalised and injured a police officer, according to a police statement. In Goma, in the province of North Kivu, police officers used tear gas to disperse small groups of protesters, and clashes were reported. One person was killed when security officers used live ammunition, and one police officer was reportedly injured.
This follows the Constitutional Court's decision to invalidate the election of 23 opposition members to the National Assembly and two senators, with the parliamentary seats often re-allocated to members of the Front commun pour le Congo (FCC) of former president Joseph Kabila.
Arbitrary arrests of protesters
On 27th February 2019, about 50 activists from social movements were arrested during protests in Kinshasa and Goma. In Kinshasa, about 30 activists from several social movements were arrested when they protested against impunity, while in Goma the protest condemned the increasing insecurity. The protesters were released on the same day in Kinshasa and on 28th February in Goma. The activists say that they were brutalised by police officers.
Student protests at the University of Lubumbashi: 4 deaths
On 27th January 2019, four people, including a police officer, were killed in clashes between security forces and protesters. On 27th January, students of the University of Lubumbashi started a protest, initially against the lack of water and electricity that had been cut for three days. Other grievances of the students included an increase in university fees and high transport costs. Later, the decision to increase academic fees was suspended.
Post-election protests and clashes on 10th January 2019: at least 10 deaths
At least 10 people died in protests following the announcement on 10th January 2019 by the National Electoral Commission (CENI) declaring Félix Tshisekedi the provisional winner of the presidential elections, said Human Rights Watch. Security forces used live ammunition to disperse opposition protesters, injuring at least 28 people, who sustained gunshot wounds, in Kikwit, Kananga, Goma and Kisangani. In Kikwit, five people were shot by security forces, three of them bystanders. Clashes between protesters and security forces led to at least 22 protesters being injured through gunshots, while 16 police officers and 3 soldiers were injured by stones. In Kisangani, a 9-year old boy was shot when police tried to disperse young protesters. In Goma, one person was killed. Three people were killed when a soldier shot into a crowd of people - Kamwina Nsapu militia members and Tshisekedi supporters - who were celebrating the victory announcement in Tshikapa. The soldier was arrested, but only charged with firing into a crowd without an order from his superior.
The official election results declaring Tshisekedi the winner of the presidential elections conflicted with observations made by the Catholic Church, who deployed a mission of 40,000 electoral observers, and leaked data from CENI, both indicating that opposition leader Martin Fayulu led the polls.
Postponement of elections in Beni, Butembo and Yumbi: protests
On 26th and 27th December 2018, hundreds of people protested against the decision of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), announced on 26th December, to postpone the elections in the regions of Beni, Butembo and Yumbi until March 2019. Clashes between protesters and security forces were reported. In Goma, security forces used tear gas against protesters, while shots were heard in Beni, where protesters burned tyres and blocked roads. In Butembo, small protests in the south of the city were reported on 26th December.
On 12th June 2019, a protest organised by the human rights organisation ASADHO (Association africaine des droits de l’Homme) and the Bill Clinton Foundation was dispersed by police officers after marching about 700 meters. The protesters demanded the liberation of Eddy Kapend and others who, according to the protesters were wrongly sentenced for the murder of then president Laurent Désiré Kabila in 2001. Before and after the protest, president of ASADHO Jean-Claude Katende was subjected to death threats through anonymous phone calls (see under Association).
On 22nd April 2019, a 'ville morte' protest action was organised by civil society organisations in Butembo in solidarity with the medical teams that have been dealing with the Ebola crisis in eastern DRC. The protest action followed armed attacks on two medical centers and the killing of a Cameroonian doctor from the World Health Organisation. There has been hostility towards the medical teams, while a survey has shown that the majority of the population is sceptical about the existence of the Ebola virus, said Ely Karuyusa. On 22nd August 2019, close to 2,000 people protested in Goma, in the province of North Kivu, against the spread of Ebola and to support the response to Ebola. The protest was organised by the governor of the province of North Kivu.
'Renewed attacks' on media and journalists in August 2019, says CSO
In a statement issued on 22nd August 2019, the press freedom CSO Journalistes en Danger (JED) denounced 'renewed attacks' on media and journalists as the CSO registered six cases of press freedom incidents in August 2019. The organisation cites the following cases:
- On 21st August 2019, the director of the newspaper Congo Nouveau Simon Bofunga appeared at the prosecutor's office at the Kinshasa/Gombe Court of Appeal, after being summoned, where he was reportedly detained for seven hours before being released. He was asked to present himself again at the prosecutor's office on 27th August. The reasons for the summons are unknown to the journalist.
- On 20th August 2019, journalist Raim Mayama was reportedly taken to the offices of the criminal police, followed by the prosecutor's office in Likasi, in the province of Haut-Katanga, on accusations of 'exhortion' after a complaint by the head of the Office of Mines. Mayama was detained at the Office of Mines when she was there to conduct an interview on alleged misappropriation of the mining tax.
- On 18th August 2019, officers of the Armed Forces of DRC (FARC) reportedly molested Serge Sindani, a journalist for the online media outlet Kis24.info when he was returning home in Kisangani. The soldiers allegedly took all his belongings, including his cell phones.
- A group of unidentified perpetrators pillaged radio station Radio Télévision Shaloom in Kananga, in the province of Kasaï Central on 16th August 2019. All the equipment was stolen. Shaloom had been closed for three months due to non-payment of taxes and duties (see below).
- The director of community radio Radio Sozer FM in Kananga, Michel Tshiyoyo, was reportedly detained on 14th August 2019 after the governor of the province Martin Kabuya accused Tshiyoyo of 'incitement of hate and contempt of the provincial authority' related to a Facebook post in which he wondered about an alleged altercation between the Governor and his deputy during an official mission.
- Journalist Frank Masunzu, correspondent of Radio Pole FM in Masisi, in the province of North Kivu, was reportedly beaten by a soldier of the Armed Forces of DRC (FARC) on 1st August 2019 when he tried to interview inhabitants of Kitshanga.
Broadcasting signal of opposition TV station RTVS1 cut
On 29th June 2019, the signal of TV station Radio Télévision par Satellite (RTVS1) was cut during the broadcasting of the programme 'Spéciale Lamuka', in which members of the opposition platform Lamuka are invited to speak. During a press conference on 2nd July 2019, President Tshisekedi said he had been informed that the TV channel issued 'calls for hate', but denied that he had given the order to cut RTVS1's signal. The TV station is owned by opposition leader Adolphe Muzito, who is part of the Lamuka platform. Broadcasting resumed on 1st August 2019, a month after the signal was cut.
Radio stations shut down in Kananga
On 3rd May 2019, 15 local radio stations, including community radio stations, were closed in Kananga, in the Central Kasaï province, for non-payment of taxes and duties. A spokesperson for the closed radio stations, Génie Joël Tunsele, said that the stations did not receive any prior notice nor were they given a chance to regulate their situation. Additionally, she indicated that the move might be politically motivated:
"There was no compliance with the procedure, that is to say the reminder or even the formal notice".... "Radios, in good faith, have tried a little to give sureties so that they can reopen. It was then that a director said: The governor instructed me not to open the radios and close them because they did not accompany him during his election campaign. It is therefore a settlement of account, which represses the freedom of the press at the level of Central Kasai. " (translated from French)
The governor, Martin Kabuya, disputed that the closure is politically motivated, and said that the radio stations only need to settle their taxes and get a licence in order to be able to broadcast again.
Supporters of political parties attack community radio, journalists
On 16th March 2019, community radio station Radio Télévision Fraternité (RTF) was attacked by angry supporters of the political party of president Tshisekedi, Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS), who disputed local senate election results, in Mbuji- Mayi. The attack followed the broadcast of a report on the election of senators, in which the former governor of the province of Kasai-Oriental Ngoy Kasanji appeared. None of the UDPS candidates were elected. The supporters, who accuse their local party leaders of having been bribed by Kabila's coalition Front commun pour le Congo (FCC), first attacked the residences of UDPS leaders before ransacking the community radio station, as the supporters believed that Ngoy Kasanji was at the station. The windows of the station were broken, the door forced open, and equipment was reported to have been stolen or damaged.
In an open letter to former presidential candidate Martin Fayulu, the press freedom CSO Journalistes en Danger (JED) asked him to denounce the physical attacks on media professionals by his supporters during meetings. According to JED, supporters of the opposition platform Lamuka attacked a journalist for Afrika Tv, Israel Mutombo on 2nd February 2019, accused him of being a traitor and of working for Tshisekedi. At the same meeting, cameraman Dieumerci Mankesela of the programme 'Tokomi wapi' was beaten and declared 'undesirable'. Two weeks prior, two other journalists had been attacked by Fayulu supporters, and their equipment seized: Stanis Bujakera Tshamala of online news outlet Actualité.cd was attacked on 21st January 2019 in Kinshasa, while a correspondent of TV5 Monde Joseph Amani was brutalised on 24th January 2019 in Uvira.
TV journalist arrested, beaten, and summarily tried for 'insulting authorities'
On 27th February 2019, security officers arrested journalist Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe of the local TV station Radio Télé Sarah on orders of the governor of the Equateur province, Bobo Boloko Bolumbu. Iwewe was covering a protest of local state employees, who were demanding operating funds, when the governor ordered him to stop filming, which Iwewe refused. The governor's security personnel of the governor beat Iwewe badly when he was arrested, leading to contusions on his head, chest and genitals, and he was not given proper medical treatment afterwards, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF). He was tried only two days later, on 1st March 2019, and sentenced by the Mbandaka criminal court to one year in prison and the payment of 200 USD for insulting the governor. Arnaud Froger of Reporters without Borders (RSF) commented:
"Arbitrary arrest, summary trial and an utterly disproportionate sentence – such iniquitous practices must be terminated in the DRC. They also completely contradict the new president’s inaugural address on 24 January, when he said he wanted the media to become a real fourth estate. This journalist must be released at once.”
Three other journalists of Radio Télé Sarah - Trésor Nsaebeinga, Yannick Vital Mbombo and Jean-Claude Mafundisho - told press freedom organisation Journalistes en Danger (JED) that they went into hiding for fear of reprisals after their houses were visited by police officers who said they had a warrant for their arrest on similar charges as their colleague, Iwewe.
On appeal, the one-year prison sentence was reduced to six months suspended. Iwewe was released on 30th April 2019, after spending a month in detention.
30th December 2018 elections: freedom of expression violations
Authorities cut access to the internet and SMS services on 31st December 2018, the day after the elections. According to a senior adviser to president Kabila, who spoke with Reuters, the shut down was to preserve public order as 'fictitious results' were starting to spread on social media. Both the opposition and the ruling party claimed victory after the polls. The shutdown, which only ended on 20th January 2019 when the DRC's Constitutional Court confirmed the victory of Felix Tshisekedi, was condemned by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye.The UN expert said in a statement on 7th January 2019 that:
"A general network shutdown is in clear violation of international law and cannot be justified by any means."
The broadcasting signals of Radio France Internationale (RFI) and TV station CCTV (Canal Congo télévision), the latter being close to the opposition, were blocked, on 1st and 2nd January 2019 respectively. Both RFI and CCTV were accused of having published unofficial election results. Additionally, the accreditation of foreign correspondent to RFI, Florence Morice, was withdrawn on 31st December 2018. The then Minister of Communication and Media Lambert Mende said that Morice violated the electoral law and the 'code of good conduct for foreign journalists' while covering the 30th December elections.
Report JED on the security of journalists 2017-2019
In a new report, 'Report on the security of journalists and the problem of impunity 2017-2019', press freedom CSO Journalistes en Danger (JED) said that in the first months since the inauguration of president Tshisekedi, there had been a decrease in registered press freedom violations, compared with 2017 and 2018 under former president Kabila. On the other hand, the new administration has failed to take any steps to promote the freedom of the press or the protection of journalists. Between November 2018 and May 2019, the CSO registered 37 cases of attacks against press freedom: 13 cases of media outlets that were closed or pillaged, 9 cases of journalists who were threatened, 6 cases of journalists detained, 5 cases of journalists attacked and 4 cases of journalists imprisoned. The legal framework for the freedom of expression remains restrictive: defamation and insults are punishable with prison sentences and heavy fines, while a freedom of information law is yet to be adopted.
Following the release of this report, JED and the CSO African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) have called upon president Tshisekedi to prioritise the security of journalists and to adopt urgent measures to end impunity for crimes against journalists. During his inauguration speech in January 2019, president Tshisekedi said that his government would have among its priorities the fight against impunity and the promotion of the press and the media so as to turn it into a ‘real fourth estate'.
RDC: JED s'insurge contre le regain d'attaques A l'égard des journalistes..https://t.co/zj9I1gypcL— JournalisteEnDanger (@jedkinshasa) August 22, 2019