Congolese police disrupt and disperse civil society meeting on human rights
In the wake of legislative elections on 16th July 2017, a spontaneous protest was dispersed by police officers. The demonstration followed a call by the opposition to protest an end to the violence in the Pool region and a call to release political prisoners. About ten people were arrested during the demonstration.
In a press statement, the Congolese human rights organisation Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme (OCDH) denounced police interference in a citizens' meeting on 'understanding and claiming human rights' organised by OCDH and the civic movement Mouvement citoyenne Ras-le-Bol on 20th May 2017 in Brazzaville. Those responsible for the conference room were reportedly asked by the police not to rent out the conference room to OCDH and Ras-le-Bol. Police were also present at the venue, forcing the closure of the premises and dispersing the meeting participants.
Two Italian journalists - Luca Chianci and Paolo Palermo - from the television channel RAI 3 were arrested in Pointe-Noire on 15th March 2017. According to the authorities, the two were arrested for entering the country on a tourist visa and lacking proper journalistic accreditation. The journalists were released on 20th March, after the Italian diplomatic mission intervened. However, the journalists' electronic equipment had been confiscated during the arrest. The journalists were reporting on a corruption case allegedly involving those close to President Sassou Nguesso. Cléa Kahn-Sriber of Reporters without Borders commented in regards to the case as well as the situation for media professionals in the country:
"Whether Congolese or foreign, no journalist should undergo these bad treatments from the part of the regime. These methods of intimidation of the foreign press says much about the attitude of the authorities towards Congolese journalists who find themselves forces to choose between self-censorship and persecution" (translated from French)
On 21st March 2017, the first correctional chamber of the Court of Appeal confirmed the sentence given to Paulin Makaya in the Court of First Instance, namely two years in prison and a fine of 2.5 million FCFA (equivalent to 3,810 EUR) for "incitement to disturb public order'". Makaya is the president of the small opposition group Unis pour le Congo and was sentenced for organising a unauthorised protest in October 2015 over the referendum to change the constitution and allowing President Sassou Nguesso to run again in 2016. In addition, opposition member Modeste Boukadia's sentence of 30 years of forced labor confirmed by the Court of Appeals on 3rd May in Pointe-Noire. Boukadia, leader of the small opposition group Cercle des démocrates et républicains du Congo was sentenced in absentia in a Court of First Instance for "attack on the internal security of the state: in April 2014, and imprisoned when he re-entered Congo in January 2016. Both are considered political prisoners by human rights groups.