Wednesday 10.1.2018 in Latest Developments
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) finally published the electoral agenda on 5th November, which indicates that presidential elections, along with legislative and provincial elections, will only take place in December 2018, two years after Kabila's constitutional term ended. In response, opposition and civil society actors have rejected the election schedule, since an agreement brokered in December 2016 stipulated that elections should take place in 2017. Some have called for a "citizen transition", while the social movement LUCHA (Lutte pour le Changement) has called for "civil disobedience and a popular uprising", including a nationwide peaceful protest on 15th November - which was prevented from taking place in most localities by security forces with any gathering of more than five people banned - but which was followed by several other protests throughout the country.
Draft Law on Associations
During the plenary of the National Assembly on 30th October, Minister of Justice Alexis Thambwe Mwamba presented a draft law that modifies the 2001 Law on Associations. Mwamba underlined the necessity to put an end to the "proliferation of associative movements in DRC", stating that the existence of more than 25,000 associations and 1,073 foreign associations contributes to the many problems in the country. The draft law was deposed at the National Assembly in early October, and contains restrictive provisions. In article 2, the draft law allows for the Ministry of Justice to dissolve associations when they are accused of undermining security or public order, causing political unrest, and desecrating political institutions. Additionally, associations will be obliged to report the origin of any funds of 5,000 USD or more to the Ministry of Justice within eight days of receipt, and failure to do so could result in dissolution of the association (article 15bis). Foreign associations will be prohibited from conducting political activities, as outlined by article 30bis, but does not specify what those activities include. Civil society organisations throughout the country have expressed their concern over such changes proposed in the draft law.
Opposition party members arrested
On 22nd October, authorities arrested at least 28 members of opposition party Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS) in Lubumbashi. According to UDPS, 48 of their members were arrested. The arrests took place the day before the visit of Félix Tshisekedi, leader of UDPS and the Rassemblement, a coalition of opposition. The mayor of Lubumbashi said in a statement that "no public demonstration can be organised without a written authorisation of the urban authority". On 23rd October, security officers used tear gas and batons to disperse a gathering of opposition supporters who were to welcome the arrival Tshisekedi at the airport. In a statement of concern, MONUSCO, the EU delegation in DRC, the heads of the diplomatic missions of US, Switzerland and Canada condemned the pattern of arbitrary arrests of opposition leaders. The opposition members were released on 24th October.
DRC in the UN Human Rights Council
During a press conference on 17th October, Minister of Rural Development and acting Minister of Human Rights Justin Bitakwira called for the dissolution of NGOs that advocated against the election of DRC in the UN Human Rights Council, as reported by Radio Okapi. As reported previously on the Monitor, 157 Congolese human rights associations petitioned the UN General Assembly to not elect DRC as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
"@AFEXafrica strongly condemns the Congolese security agents for using lethal force against demonstrators, resulting in the reported deaths of citizens"https://t.co/ZqxmX4einQ #DRC #RDC @jedkinshasa @CPJAfrica— IFEX (@IFEX) 3 januari 2018
Repression of anti-Kabila protests
On Sunday 31st December, security forces killed at least eight people - seven in Kinshasa and one in Kananga - and arrested at least 100 people during protests, according to several media reports, such as AFP and RFI who spoke with UN sources. The Comité laïc de coordination (CLC) of the Catholic church had called for a peaceful protest after mass on Sunday, to demand the respect and implementation of the Church mediated political peace accord, which stipulated that elections would take place in December 2017, signed one year prior on 31st December 2016. According to news sources, security forces used disproportionate force, including entering and using teargas into and around churches during mass and the arrest of several priests and alter boys. Prior to the planned protest, authorities banned the assembly citing 'security reasons', cut access to the internet and SMS services, and jammed the signal of several radios in certain areas, such as Radio Okapi in Kinshasa, among others.The head of the Roman Catholic Church in DRC, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, condenmned the action of security forces and said:
"We can only denounce, condemn and stigmatise the actions of the supposedly valiant men in uniform, which are, unfortunately, nothing more, nothing less than barbarism."
According to Minister of Communication, Lambert Mende, five people died on 31st December, none of which were related to the protests.
On 30th December, police officers dispersed a protest organised by two citizen movements - "Congo Conscience" and "Congolais debout" in Goma. On 30th November, security forces prevented several protests from taking place throughout the countries. The protest, "journée de la colère" (day of anger), was called upon by the opposition Rassemblement de l'opposition and civil society groups, was banned, and led to several arrests and one death in Butembo. On 28th November, police officers dispersed a march, organised by Collectif des actions de la societé civile (CASC) in Goma to denounce the electoral agenda published by CENI. CASC announced that police officers arrested 22 of their members in Goma, while news reports indicate that security forces arrested 7 people in Butembo during a protest organised by citizen movements Filimbi, Lucha, and Parlement Debout de Furu on the same day.
On 30th October, five people - including one police officer - were killed during a protest in Goma. Collectif des actions de la societé civile (CASC), which includes LUCHA, called for a "ville morte" (dead city) on 30th October to demand the peaceful departure of President Kabila before the end of 2017. In Goma, protests by young demonstrators also broke out that day in the neighbourhood of Majengo, followed by clashes and the burning of the police station in Majengo. A LUCHA spokesperson reported to RFI that police officers used tear gas and live ammunition against the protesters. The call for a "ville morte" was also followed in Beni, Kisangi and Bukavu. In Bukavu, the action was well followed, without any reported incidents. In Beni, police dispersed a protest on 31st October, and arrested at least nine activists.
On 6th November, security forces dispersed several groups trying to protest against the publication of the electoral calendar in Lubumbashi. On 16th October, police officers dispersed a protest of the Rassemblement de l' Opposition in Goma. The protest was organised against the CENI declaration of 10th October dictating that they would need 507 days to organise the elections. At least eight persons were detained for a short period before being released.
Following the arbitrary arrest of at least 28 opposition members (see above), the EU mission in DRC, together with the heads of the missions of USA, Switzerland and Canada in the country, issued a statement on 25th October expressing their concerns over the restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly in DRC, in addition to the arbitrary arrests of opposition members in Lubumbashi.
On 15th September, security forces killed at least 39 Burundian refugees and injured at least 94 in clashes with security forces at a protest in South Kivu. Burundian asylum seekers living in the area had gathered to protest the detention of four Burundian refugees by the National Intelligence Agency, fearing that they would be repatriated and handed over to the Burundian government. There are currently more than 2,000 refugees in the Kamanyola area, close to the border with Burundi, of a roughly 44,000 living in DRC, many having fled when the country descended into chaos in 2015.
Reports on repression of protests
The Conférence épiscopale des évêques du Congo (CENCO; Episcopal Conference of Bishops of Congo) announced on 20th November that CENCO, through the deployment of 200 observers, noted that at least 56 people were killed between April and October 2017, with 52 people killed through live ammunition, one through the use of tear gas and three police officers killed by protesters. Additionally, CENCO said their monitoring showed that at least 105 people were injured and at least 355 protesters were arrested.
In its report "'Special Mission': Recruitment of M23 rebels to supress protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo", released on 4th December, Human Rights Watch claims that senior security personnel mobilised over 200 former M23 rebels in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda to crush protests in the country in December 2016, when Kabila's constitutional term ended. The report, based on 120 interviews, further documents the killing of at least 62 people and the arrest of hundreds by security forces in protests between 19th and 22nd December 2016.
Le journaliste Stanislas Lumwanga arrêté aux services des renseignements militaires a Kolwezi est libre depuis mercredi a 20h. Merci a tous. pic.twitter.com/e8cjz0IKQm— Lameki Wa LamekiMike (@Lamekimike01) 9 november 2017
Attacks against and arrests of journalists
Six armed men claiming to be from the Agence nationale des renseignements (ANR; National Intelligence Agency) tried to abduct the secretary-general of Journaliste En Danger (JED), Tshivis Tshivuadi, at his home in Kinshasa in the night of 29th to 30th December, as alerted by Reporters without Borders (RSF). The security guard at the house was allegedly beaten and threatened to reveal the whereabouts of Tshivuadi.
On 29th November, security intelligence agents arrested four employees of radio Véritas in Kabinda, in the province of Lomami - Johnny Kasongo, Jean Doudou Ndumba, Musiko Kisiesia et Ephraïm Mbayo - at the premises of the radio, according to a statement of JED. The journalists were allegedly beaten, and a technician of the radio was asked by the agents to interrupt the live broadcast of the plenary of the Provincial Assembly, which was discussing the dismissal of governor Patrice Kamanda on allegations of bad governance and mismanagement.
Journalist Stanislas Lumwanga of Radiotélévion Malaïka was arrested on 7th November, 15 km outside of Kolwezi, in the province of Lualaba southern DRC, and was held at DMIAP (Détection Militaire des Activités Anti Patrie). According to testimonies of witnesses gathered by JED, Lumwanga was arrested while taking pictures of armed forces (FARDC) and police officers exhorting money from motorcyclists. He is accused of taking pictures of military with the aim of delivering those to "enemies". He was released on 8th November.
Report on freedom of expression: repression becomes commonplace
The organisation Journaliste en Danger (JED) released its 2017 report on the state of the freedom of press and expression in DRC entitled: "Democratic Republic of Congo: Repression becomes commonplace" ("République démocratique du Congo: la répression se banalise") on 2nd November, the International Day to End Impunity against Journalists. JED has recorded 121 attacks on journalists and media outlets, with half of those including physical attacks against journalists. In its 2016 report, JED registered 87 cases of attacks, which means that in 2017 there has been a substantial rise in the number of attacks compared with the previous year. Tshivis Tshivuadi, secretary general of JED, remarked to Radio Okapi that:
"Besides the physical violence, we have noted that there have been many cases of censorship against national and international media. The signal of some medias were jammed or cut, not to mention social media and access that was cut off". (Translated from French)
According to Tshivuadi, the press freedom violations registered this year are part of a "system of repression".
Minister of Communication and Media Lambert Mende rejected JED's report, accusing JED of "political activism". He further made a veiled threat by saying that:
''if freedom of expression was non-existent in DRC, the members of JED would already been long arrested".