DRC: Violent repression of opposition protest as Senate adopts law on the protection of human rights defenders
DR Congo: Peaceful Protests Violently Repressed https://t.co/XeIP7Eo2cP— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) May 29, 2023
Opposition protest violently dispersed
On 20th May 2023, security forces violently dispersed a peaceful protest in Kinshasa, organised by a coalition of opposition parties, injuring at least 30 people. Additionally, dozens of people were arrested. News reports indicate that dozens of anti-riot police arrived, fired tear gas at the protesters and started arresting people violently. Additionally, police reportedly beat protesters, including minors. Some protesters reacted by throwing stones and other projectiles towards police officers.
The protest, organised to denounce the high cost of living, the opacity of the electoral process and the insecurity in eastern DRC, was authorised by authorities. Police claim that protesters did not respect the agreed itinerary, and the governor of Kinshasa, Gentiny Ngobila Mbaka, promised to file a complaint against the organisers of the protest.
The Minister of Human Rights, Albert-Fabrice Puela, condemned the repression and brutality against the protesters and requested an inquiry into the incidents. Meanwhile, police said they arrested three police officers for the beating of a child during the protest.
The Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) called it a “despicable and savage repression that the police and their complicit militia [had] inflicted on May 20 on demonstrators, including minors found on their way”. The use of excessive force by police was likewise condemned by international actors, such as the USA, European Union and the United Nations.
Dans une correspondance adressée aux secrétaires généraux du quatuor de l'Opposition, le vice-gouverneur de la ville de #Kinshasa, Gecoco Mulumba a interdit le sit-in de l'Opposition qui devrait avoir lieu ce jeudi devant le siège de la CENI pic.twitter.com/JSh8vp1tGc— Gilbert Ngonga (@GilbertNgonga2) May 23, 2023
Prevention, ban of sit-ins
On 25th May 2023, police prevented a sit-in from taking place in front of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) in Kinshasa. The sit-in, organised by presidential opposition candidates Moïse Katumbi, Martin Fayulu, Delly Sesanga and Augustin Matata Ponyo to denounce the “chaotic” electoral process, was banned by local authorities.
Another sit-in, planned for 27th May 2023 in front of the CENI offices in Lubumbashi, was banned by local authorities, who invoked security reasons to ban all public protests ‘until further order’.
General elections are scheduled to take place on 20th December 2023.
RDC : le sénat adopte la proposition de loi relative à la protection et à la responsabilité du défenseur des droits de l'homme https://t.co/ZnIMal9yII— ACTUALITE.CD (@actualitecd) June 15, 2023
Senate adopts draft law on the protection of HRDs
On 14th June 2023, DRC’s Senate approved the draft Law on the Protection and Responsibility of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). The draft law had already been approved by the National Assembly on 12th December 2022. The bill will become law once the Head of State, President Tshisekedi signs and promulgates the draft law.
Efforts to have a national law on the protection of HRDs date back to 2010. Attempts to introduce a draft law in 2011 and 2017 were aborted. Local provincial édicts with the aim to protect HRDs already existed in the provinces of North and South Kivu and Maniema.
#DRC Congolese soldiers arrest, beat 3 journalists covering land dispute https://t.co/PnM0u8Kc7L— Clément Boursin (@ClementBoursin) July 3, 2023
Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must hold accountable the soldiers who arrested and beat journalists Jeef Ngoyi, Marie-Louise Malou Mbela, and Jiresse Nkelani
On 28th June 2023, a dozen soldiers of DRC’s armed forces (FARDC) detained three journalists, punched them and used belts to hit them. The three journalists – Jeef Ngoyi of Radio Okapi, Marie-Louise Malou Mbela of state-owned Radio Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) and RTNC2 trainee camera operator Jiresse Nkelani – were covering a land dispute in Kinshasa when the assault happened. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the group of journalists interviewed a man who claimed that FARDC soldiers had evicted him on orders of the Minister of Urban Planning and Habitat. The journalists were detained at the local office of the Military Detection of Anti-Patriotic Activities (DEMIAP). After intervention of the UN – Radio Okapi is backed by the UN – Malou was released later that day. Ngoyi and Nkelani were released the following day.
On 20th May 2023, during the opposition protest in Kinshasa (see under peaceful assembly), a group of protesters attacked journalist Geonne Djokwa, who was covering protesters clashing with the police, with a machete, cutting the right side of her head. Djokwa, who works for Congo Lisanga Télévision, said her camera and phone were taken during the attack. The same group of protesters further threatened, with the machete, to attack journalist Prisca Yasetonga of YouTube channel Mbonka nde Congo Television, who luckily managed to escape.
Brief detention of two journalists
According to press freedom organisation Observatoire de la Liberté de la Presse en Afrique (OLPA; Africa Press Freedom Observatory), police arrested two journalists on 26th July 2023 in Kamonia, Kasaï province. Martin Nyamabu, who works for Community Radio Kamonia Horizon (RCKH) and Papy Ngalamulume, who works for Radio Télé Kamonia (RTK), were arrested while reporting on a gathering of CSOs who were protesting against a recent order by the Deputy Prime Minister of the Interior, Security and Customary Affairs, appointing Lazard Shidi Ilamikiza as the sector chief of Kasaï-Longotshimo. The two were reportedly accused of covering an unauthorised assembly. They were released after a few hours.
Court revokes ban on media outlet, provincial governor defies order
On 6th June 2023, a court in Mbandaka, Equateur province, ruled that the closure of Radio Télévision Sarah in November 2021 was illegal and permitted the re-opening of the radio station. The court case follows a lawsuit filed by the media outlet against the Equateur provincial government. In November 2021, the media outlet was suspended for a period of 60 days on orders of the provincial Minister of Communication and Media, who accused the broadcaster of airing inflammatory programmes and criticism of the governor. In January 2022, the suspension was extended ‘indefinitely’.
In defiance of the court ruling, on 7th June the Equateur governor, Bobo Boloko Bolumbu, sent armed police officers and the provincial Minister of Justice to Radio Télévision Sarah’s offices to block staff access to the media outlet. As of 14th June 2023, the armed police officers continued to deny entry to the broadcaster’s staff. Moreover, the managing director of the outlet, Steve Mwanyo, told CPJ that they found broadcasting equipment missing when they entered the offices on 7th June 2023, a few hours before the armed police arrived.