Deadly anti-Kabila protests followed by wave of arrests of social movement activists

Peaceful Assembly

Deathly anti-Kabila protests 

After the deadly crackdown on protests on 31st December 2017, Comité laïc de coordination (CLC), close to the Catholic Church, organised other  protests after mass on 21st January and 25th February, both of which were brutally repressed by security forces. According to the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUSCO), at least six people died and 57 were injured during the protests on 21st January when security forces fired live bullets and tear gas against protesters. Tear gas was reportedly also fired into a maternity ward at Saint-Sacrement, opposite of a church in the neighbourhood of Delvaux, where churchgoers were looking for refuge during the violence. MONUSCO deployed observers to report on "possible human rights violations" during the protest, calling on the authorities to guarantee the constitutional right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Several of the UN observers were threatened and harassed. In an interview with actualité.cd, General Sylvano Kasongo said that besides one police officer - who was arrested - no shots were fired by police during the protest on 21st January. Two human rights organisations - Voix des sans voix (VSV) and the Bill Clinton Foundation for Peace - have called on the authorities to return the bodies of those who were killed during the protest on 21st January.

During the 25th February protests, security forces brutally dispersed protesters with tear gas and live ammunition. The governor of Kinshasa refused to authorise the protest. According to the CLC, at least three people died - two in Kinshasa and one in Mbandaka in the province of Equateur - while several others were reportedly injured. Human rights defender Rossy Tshimanga Mukendi was among those killed (see under Association). According to the United Nations, two protesters died and at least 47 were injured, while more than 100 were arrested. Protests in Goma, Bukavu and Kikwit were prevented by a massive deployment of security forces. In Kisangani, security forces used tear gas and live ammunition, with several injuries and arrests being reported - including the arrest of three priests - while protesters in Lumubashi were dispersed by security forces. Access to internet and SMS was blocked on 25th February, as had occurred with previously-planned CLC protests on 31st January and 21st January. A military court sentenced one police officer to life in prison for killing a protester in Mbandaka on 25th February. A total of 152 civil society organisations expressed their support of the protest and declared plans to deploy 1,670 observers. 

Citizen movement Le Congolais debout called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March to open an investigation into the perpetrators of the repression of peaceful assemblies in DRC. Hervé Diakese explained:

"We all see that public demonstrations face a repression not only violent and disproportionate, but especially deadly. The evidence in our possession and the current findings sufficiently prove that it is a deliberate policy of repression against all that can be perceived as being in opposition to Joseph Kabila's system of staying in power beyond his mandate. For us, these are acts constituting crimes against humanity".. 

On 12th January, police officers used tear gas to disperse a spontaneous protest in Kinshasa organised by attendees of mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The protesters were commemorating the victims of the 31st January protests. The violence resulted in at least two people injured. 

Joint report of UN Human Rights Office and MONUSCO: At least 47 people killed during protests

According to a joint report of the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), security forces killed at least 47 people during protests that took place between 1st January 2017 and 31st January 2018 and has found indications that the security forces have attempted to cover up the human rights violations. It further states

"...that while some people armed with sticks and broomsticks did attempt to perpetrate violence during some protests, the vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful. The use of excessive force – including lethal force – by the authorities was thus unlawful, unjustified and disproportionate".

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein commented on the situation, stating that:

"It is particularly disturbing that security services and defence forces carry out this violence with almost full impunity which can be perceived as encouraging such repression. We are seeing the quashing of dissent at all costs – even at the cost of human life – in the DRC by the systematic deployment of armed forces alongside the Police Nationale Congolaise to handle protests”.

Joint Commission of Inquiry

A Joint Commission of Inquiry, including members of civil society, was established in February by Minister of Human Rights Marie-Ange Mushobekwa. On 10th March 2018, the joint commission issued a report of its investigation into human rights abuses during the protests of 31st December 2017 and 21st January 2018.

Three NGOs - Accès à la Justice (ACAJ), les Amis de Nelson Mandela pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (AMNDH) and la Voix-Des-Sans-Voix (VSV) - suspended their participation in the Commission of Inquiry on 11th April 2018, denouncing the non- implementation of the recommendations made, in particular, in regards to the lifting of the ban on public manifestations, liberating people who were detained on 31st December and 21 January, and the lack of medical care to those injured during protests. On 27th April, the NGOs ended their suspension, due to the fact that the government had initiated the implementation of some of the Commission's recommendations, namely granting medical care to those injured.

Increasing insecurity in Kinshasa has been felt as hostilities between the authorities and the Catholic Church have amplified. On 4th February, a priest was abducted after mass in the outskirts of the capital; he was released several hours later. Pastor François David Ekofo fled the country on 3rd February, fearing for his safety, after he questioned the lack of governance in the country. 

Other protests

Civil society in Beni called for a day of ville morte on 15th January to protest the insecurity in the region. This follows two separate abductions of at least 10 people, allegedly by the Ugandan rebels of the Forces démocratiques alliées (ADF), which took place on 11th January. In one incident, several people were abducted on the road from Beni to Kasindi, including journalist Jadot Kasereka Mangwengwe of the Radio télévision Graben Beni (RTGB), while several farmers were abducted in the National Virunga Park. Radio stations in Beni and Butembo have already protested by holding 'days without information'. On 15th January, angry citizens descended on the streets in Kamanyola, attacking state symbols, to protest the insecurity in South Kivu after a money trader was found murdered. According to the territorial administrator of Walungu - Dominique Bofondo - the Kamanyola administrative post was destroyed and files burned in different offices. Police officers made warning shots at mid day to disperse protesters who tried to set fire to the police station.

Several young people spontaneously took to the streets in different neighbourhoods in Goma on 10th February to express their concern regarding the disappearance of musician Black Man Bausi - a popular singer - on 8th February. According to Black Man Bausi's family, he recently received threats regarding one of his songs which was critical of a pastor known to be close to the authorities.

On 25th January, police officers fired shots and used tear gas to disperse students at the University of Kinshasa, according to witnesses who spoke with Radio Okapi. The students gathered to demand a different exchange rate for their tuition fees - 920 francs CFA per USD instead of the 1600 francs CFA per USD, as required by the academic authorities. The Kinshasa police commander accused the students of setting fire to the student police station. The Minister of Higher and University Education later said that a misunderstanding is at the base of the protests - as the exchange rate is set at 920 or 960 francs CFA per USD. A day earlier on 24th January, police arrested some students who were participating in a spontaneous protest on the same issue.

On 31st January, ex-South Sudanese rebels, who fought for the ex-vice-president of South Sudan Riek Machar, protested in Goma, demanding repatriation to their country of origin. Police used tear gas to disperse the protest that had blocked traffic on the road from Goma to Rutshuru. 

On 25th January, hundreds of students protested in Goma (North Kivu) to denounce the abduction of student Kambale Mutaka Joël from the Institute Majengo in the Karisimb community.

On 26th March, police dispersed a sit-in by the social movement LUCHA (Lutte pour le Changement) in Beni and Goma (North Kivu) in front of MONUSCO to demand binding measures from the United Nations in light of the renewal of its mandate in the DRC, which had previously ended on 31st March. At least seven activists were injured in Beni, according to the organisers. The UN Security Council extended MONUSCO's mandate from 27th March through 31st March 2019, with a more focused mandate to help protect citizens and support the implementation of the church-brokered Saint Sylvester agreement. 


Wave of arrests of activists related to protests

Police officers arrested 27 LUCHA activists - including Fred Bauma - in Goma on 1st May for disturbing public order while they were gathering to celebrate their six years of existence and to denounce the 'massacres of Congolese' in North Kivu. They were released later that day. 

On 29th December 2017,12 LUCHA activists were arrested on charges of "incitement to civil disobedience" in Kananga in connection to an anti-Kabila protest organised two days prior to the 31st December deadly protests. On 5th January, 11 LUCHA activists filed a complaint against the mayor of Kananga - Muamba Kantu Kanjila - for "illegal confinement, arbitrary arrest, torture and arrest". The 11 planned to protest for three days, but were arrested on 29th December by security forces by order of the mayor. According to the complaint, they were taken to city hall, where two of the activists were beaten and threatened in the presence of the local head of the National Intelligence Agency. The Prosecutor's Office of the Katoka Court in Kananga (Central Kasai) requested on 9th January a prison sentence of three years and a fine of 200,000 francs CFA for 10 of the LUCHA activists who were arrested on 29th December for disobeying a public authority and criminal activity, as the mayor of Kananga had banned public demonstrations.

On 29th and 30th December, eight Filimbi activists were arrested for informing the public of the CLC protests planned for 31st December. Human rights defender Roger Katanga Mwenyemali was arrested on 29th December, and was transferred on 2nd January to the Kindu Prison. On 6th March, the Kindu High Court acquitted Mwenyemali. On 30th December, six other Filimbi activists - Carbone Beni, Mino Bompomi, Boni Dickson Mputu, Grâce Tshiunza, Cedrick Kalonji and Arciel Beni - were arrested in N'Dijili (Kinshasa) for going from door-to-door to mobilise people for the protest on 31st December. While Arciel Beni was released on 31st December and Boni Dickson Mputu on 2nd January, the others were turned over to the National Intelligence Agency on 2nd January and accused of disobeying the head of state and inciting revolt. Filimbi activist Palmer Kabeya, also arrested on 30th December, is being held at the Détection militaire des activités anti-patrie (a military detention for anti-homeland activities) and has been denied access to his lawyer and family members. 

On 21st January 2018, police arrested four LUCHA activists - Parfait Muhani, Rachel Benie, Justin Mutabesha and Ben Kamuntu - in front of the St. Joseph Cathedral in Goma, as they were preparing for the 21st January protest. On 19th March, the Goma Peace Court acquitted the four and they were released on 20th March. 

Killing of HRD Rossy Tshimanga Mukendi

On 25th February, police officers opened fire on protesters outside Saint-Benoît Church in Kinshasa, killing human rights defender Rossy Tshimanga Mukendi while he was assisting protesters with finding shelter in the church. Mukendi was a member of Mouvement Citoyen Collectif 2016, a youth movement fighting for democracy and human rights. According to his brother, Mukendi had received anonymous threatening telephone calls prior to his death.

Insecurity: Abductions of priests and humanitarian aid workers

On 18th January 2018, armed men abducted two employees of the humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the town of Kalembe, in the territory of Masisi (North Kivu).The MSF convoy was returning from Ihula, where they had been providing medial assistance, when they were ambushed by armed men. Rwandan rebels of FDLR/CNRD have been accused of the abduction. Abductions of priests and humanitarian aid workers happen frequently, especially in eastern DRC, as different militias are active in the region.

On 24th March, the NGO Collectif Alpha, in collaboration with the women's department of the Office of the Coordination of Civil Society, requested that the judicial authorities, magistrates and police take more "responsibility in the fight against sexual violence against women" as widespread impunity in such cases remains a serious issue. 


Arbitrary arrests of journalists

On 12th February, officers of the Armed Forces of DCR (FARC) detained a journalist with Radio le Messager du Peuple while he was filming a telecommunication agency that was attacked by armed men in Uvira in the province of South Kivu. The military auditor of the Uvira garrison gave an order for the journalist's immediate arrest on charges of reporting "without prior authorisation from the competent authorities".

The intelligence service arrested Willy Akonda, a journalist with Actualité.cd, for taking photographs of 'fallen bread' on the streets of Kinkole in N’sele community (east of Kinshasa). He was released on 23rd January after several interventions from Media et de l’Union nationale de la presse du Congo (UNPC). His two phones were searched and confiscated, and he was expected to appear at the Military Intelligence Service (DEMIAP) on 24th January. 

On 2nd April, police arrested Eliezer Tambwe, a journalist and presenter of the programme Tokomi wapi, according to the news website He was taken to the General Prosecutor's Office in Gombe, though the reasons for his arrest remain unknown. 

Journalist Serge Olivier Nkongolo of Radio Kilimandjaro in Tshikapa (Kasai) was summoned to the Public Prosecutor's Office on 28th March 2018 after the legal advisorof the Governor of Kasai deposed a complaint against him for defamation. The complaint reportedly relates to a Facebook post where Nkongolo denounced the behaviour of some local officials, including alleged threats and attacks against journalists. 

Internet cut several times to stifle protests

On the night of 20th January - a couple of hours prior to the 21st January protests - the authorities ordered an internet blackout, making SMS, emails and social networks unavailable in Kinshasa. Internet services were also reportedly cut in other cities of the country, including Lubumbashi, Kananga and Kisangani. Internet services were only restored on 23rd January. In the run-up of the protest on 25th February, access to internet and SMS services was also blocked. 

Eight Congolese human rights organisations filed a complaint on 15th February against the telecommunications Vodacom, Orange, Airtel and Africell for interrupting access to the internet and SMS messaging of their customers on 30th December, a day before the protest and without explanation nor reimbursement. The organisations have also filed a complaint at the headquarters of the companies - Orange (France), Vodacom (South Africa) and Airtel (India).