Violence, arrests and killings as President Kabila clings to power
Though the constitutionally mandated two-term limit for President Kabila ended on 19th December 2016 and an agreement brokered in December 2016 stipulated organising presidential elections before the end of 2017, to date, the elections are nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, the crackdown on political opposition, civil society, the media and activists has intensified.
The violence and human rights abuses in the Kasaï region have been spiraling out of control since August 2016. According to UN investigations, at least 42 mass graves have been identified. And other grave human rights abuses, such as summary executions and sexual violence, have been widely documented by international observers who face great risk monitoring the situation in the DRC. In March 2017, two UN experts and their interpreter were killed while investigating cases of human rights abuses in the Kasaï region. The crisis has also caused approximately 1.3 million Congolese to be displaced from their homes, according to UN estimates.
In June 2017, 262 Congolese organisations and eight international organisations urged the UN Human Rights Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry on the situation in the Kasaï region. On 23rd June 2017, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution mandating the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a team of international experts to investigate human rights abuses in the Kasaï region.
Human rights defender Nicolas Mbiya was arrested on 14th July 2017 outside his home in Mbuji-Mayi, and is reportedly being held by the Agence Nationale des Renseignements. Mbiya is an activist with Lutte pour le Changement (Struggle for Change - LUCHA), a youth-led civil society movement. This was the third time Mbiya had been arrested over the past eight months.
On 30th June 2017, at least seven civil society activists were detained in Kinshasa while trying to enter a conference venue. The conference on the topic of the return to a constitutional order was banned early in the morning on the day of the event by the mayor of the Gombe municipality in Kinshasa. It had been organised by Collectif d'actions de la societé civile (CASC), an organisation that mobilises citizens around the issue of returning to a constitutional order in celebration of 57 years of an independent DRC. CASC is a network of several citizen movements and human rights organisations, including LUCHA, Voix des Sans Voix and Chemin de la Paix.
On 23rd June 2017, Jean Marie Kalonji, one of the founders of the pro-democracy movement La Quatrième Voie/Il Est Temps RDC (The Fourth Way/ It is time DRC) was detained by military officers in Kinshasa while returning from a visit to his brother in Bumba military camp in Kinshasa. His lawyer, Sylva Mbikayi, was also detained when he tried to assist Kalonji. They were held at the military intelligence headquarters without officially being charged or able to access legal counsel or contact family until their release on 18th July 2017. Kalonji has been arbitrarily detained before; he was released on 27th August 2016 after spending 132 days in detention.
Four artists were detained in Goma on 23rd June 2017 for using art to protest the killings in central Kasai province and Beni, North Kivu province. Benoit Mugabo, Benito Mupenzi, Prezi Numbi and Cruzz Taylor held a cross with the words 'Kasai' and 'Beni' painted on it, and stood still, with eyes closed, close to a busy intersection in Goma. Police arrested the four for protesting without prior authorisation and for disruption of public order. The four were released five days later on 28th June 2017, after paying a fine for "attempted rebellion".
Threats, intimidation and physical attacks against journalists remains a serious concern in DRC. On 18th May 2017, three journalists from TV5 Monde were beaten by plainclothes police officers, while covering a story on inmates escaping from one of Kinshasa's main jails in Makaka. They were held a couple of hours at the rapid reaction police force office before being released; however, their equipment was not returned to them.
Eduard Diyi from Radio Télévision Kasaï Horizons (KHRT), a radio and TV station in Kananga, was threatened by the provincial deputy governor, Justin Milonga, while he was covering a protest in front of the Milonga's offices. According to information obtained by Journaliste en Danger, Milonga threatened Diyi, saying, "I think your wife and kids need to die in order for you to understand".
In the Kasaï region, numerous threats have been made against journalists reporting on the atrocities, even while the government continues to deny the human rights abuses and mass killings taking place there. On 12th April 2017, three reporters - Rozen Kalafulo of Pole FM, Freddy Bikumbi of Radio Okapi and Willian Dupuy of Picture Tank - were physically attacked by the police while reporting on a peaceful demonstration by the LUCHA movement.
Threats and intimidation also originate from non-state actors, such as rebel groups. Reporters without Borders reported on threats made to Magloire Paluku Kavunga, Director-General of Kivu 1 radio and TV broadcaster, by M23 rebel group members in March 2017.
Innocent Banga Karaba, a journalist for the state radio, was killed on 12th July 2017 in Bunia, capital of the province of Ituri, prompting the National Union of the Press in Congo to call for a day without media.
In a statement, Radio France International (RFI) has condemned the government's silence in response to RFI's request to authorise the accreditation of a special envoy to the DRC, Sonja Rolley. Additionally, RFI's local broadcasting in Kinshasa has been jammed since 4th November 2016.
On 14th July, a local rebel group attacked a group of journalists and wildlife defenders in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Four wildlife rangers and a porter were found dead. Reports are still being verified, but a U.S. journalist and Dutch journalist have been accounted for.
It is no surprise, that given so many violations of freedom of expression and threats to the media, DRC dropped two places on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, ranking at 154th out of 180 countries.