Protests against insecurity in eastern DRC: at least 10 killed

Peaceful Assembly

Increasing insecurity in eastern DRC: at least 10 killed in protests

Since 23rd November 2019, protests have been taking place in Beni against increasing insecurity for civilians and to denounce the failure of MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, to protect civilians against attacks by rebel militias operating in the region. The protests erupted after more than 100 civilians were killed in attacks in less than a month, believed to have been perpetrated by the Ugandan militia Forces démocratiques alliées (ADF). The protesters accuse MONUSCO of inaction on these killings. Protests also took place in Goma and Butembo. At least ten protesters were killed by Congolese and UN security forces In November 2019, said Amnesty International. Some of the incidents that took place were:

  • During a protest in Beni on 23rd November 2019, officers of the Mobile Intervention Group (GMI) used excessive force, including firinglive ammunition against protesters, killing two people, including LUCHA activist Muhindo Kanzogha Obadi. Several others, including police officers, were reportedly injured. According to Front Line Defenders, Obadi and his colleagues participated in the protest and tried to calm protesters who were angry at the police for blocking the road.
  • After learning that eight people had been killed in an attack during the night of 24th-25th November in Beni's neighbourhood of Boikene, new protests and violence broke out in Beni. The town hall was set on fire and security forces reportedly used live ammunition after angry protesters entered one of MONUSCO's camps, partially burning down the structure. At least four people were reported to have been killed.
  • One person died in hospital from bullet wounds during a protest on 26th November in Butembo. On the same day, one protester was killed in clashes with the UN Blue Berets in the Boikene neighbourhood in Beni when a group of protesters was marching towards the MONUSCO base. MONUSCO said in a press statement that an investigation had been opened into the death of the protester.
  • On 2nd December 2019, at least one protester and one police officer were killed in anti-MONUSCO protests in Beni.
  • On 10th December 2019, one student was reportedly killed when a police officer fired live ammunition when protesters were marching in Goma. The protest erupted in the neighbourhood of Kasika and protesters set fire to the police station. 

Student protests at the University of Kinshasa against high enrollment fees

On 6th January 2020, protests erupted at the University of Kinshasa (UNIKIN) over the increase in enrollment fees. Students initially burned tyres and threw projectiles at security forces and the protest turned violent, with clashes between protesters and security forces, vandalism, looting, and burning of buildings reported. One police officer died as a result of his injuries after having been beaten by students. On 7th January 2020, the government ordered the suspension of all activities at UNIKIN until further notice, and students were given 48 hours to vacate student accommodation.

LUCHA protesters arrested, subjected to ill-treatment

On 9th September 2019, police dispersed a protest of LUCHA in Kananga, in the province of Kasaï-Central denouncing the decision of the provincial governor to suspend officials of the territorial administration, such as mayors, deputy mayors and territorial administrators. According to LUCHA and witnesses, police used tear gas followed by beatings with batons and sticks. Four LUCHA activists were reportedly admitted to hospital with injuries sustained in the protest. Previously in Kananga, five LUCHA activists were reportedly injured during a protest on 28th August 2019 against alleged corruption, when police used excessive force and tear gas against protesters. In both occasions, LUCHA said that they had informed local authorities of their intention to march.

On 6th September 2019, at least 13 LUCHA activists were detained during a protest in Kinshasa and were subjected to ill-treatment by police officers before being released the same day. The protesters demanded an investigation into the disappearance of 15 million USD of public funds, as revealed in a report by the Inspectorate General of Finances. Local authorities reportedly banned the protest.

According to media reports, 36 LUCHA activists and protesters were arrested in Goma on 18th and 19th September 2019, in relation to a sit-in in front of the offices of telecommunication operator Airtel which started on 16th September. The protest action aimed at demanding better service at more affordable prices, a LUCHA campaign that had already started in May. The activists were released several days later, on 24th September 2019.

Strike by lawyers in Lubumbashi

In early December 2019, lawyers in Lubumbashi suspended their appearances before the courts in protest against police brutality and intimidation of lawyers while exercising their profession. Thimothé Mbuya said to RFI:

"The Constitution provides that lawyers must assist their clients at all stages of the procedure. But there are places lawyers can't go. When you insist, you are mistreated, you are beaten up like a child, like a vulgar man, even by the police."

Association

Land rights defenders: intimidation, arrests

On 18th September 2019, police officers arrested Mombulu Boyama Alphonse, land rights defender and traditional chief of the Mwingi community, in the province of Tshopo, according to human rights group Front Line Defenders. The arrest reportedly followed a complaint from the provincial General Prosecutor in relation to a protest by villagers against the palm oil agribusiness Plantation Huilerie du Congo (PHC-FERONIA) that occurred in March 2019. Police officers attempted to arrest the land rights defender a few days before on 15th September, and allegedly fired tear gas onto his palm oil farm and beat Mombulu Boyama Alphonse before he escaped. For the past few years, Alphonse has been active in monitoring human rights abuses committed in relation to multinational companies operating in the area, and has worked with the Congolese network organisation Réseau d’Information et d’Appui aux ONG nationales (Support and Information Network for National Organisations – RIAO-RDC). A few days before Alphonse's arrest, human rights defender Iswetele Eswetele Mokili and four of his colleagues were reportedly arrested in Lokutu on orders of the Prosecutor, on charges that remain unclear.

According to Front Line Defenders, incidents of intimidation and harassment of community members and human rights defenders have been recorded since RIAO-RDC filed a complaint with the German and Dutch development banks who have invested in FERONIA. This includes the killing, on 21st July 2019, of an activist with RIAO-RDC, Joël Imbangola Lunea, who was reportedly beaten and strangled to death by a security guard of FERONIA's Boteka plantation in Bempumba in the Equateur Province. The UK development bank, CDC, who owns 38 percent of FERONIA said it launched an independent inquiry into the death of Lunea.

LUCHA activist killed

On 23rd November 2019, LUCHA activist and HRD Muhindo Kanzogha Obadi was killed when members of the Mobile Intervention Group (GMI) used live ammunition to disperse protesters in Beni (see also under Peaceful Assembly). According to Front Line Defenders, Obadi and his colleagues participated in the protest and tried to calm protesters who were angry at the police for blocking the road. Protests erupted in Beni, Butembo and Goma against increasing insecurity in the region. 

Expression

Covering the Ebola epidemic: community radio journalist killed, threats and intimidation against journalists

On 2nd November 2019, unidentified armed men attacked and killed community radio journalist Papy Mahamba Mumbere in his home in Lwemba, Ituri Province. The attack, in which his wife was also injured, happened after Mumbere hosted a programme on Lwemba Community Radio (Radio Communautaire de Lwemba) on the measures taken to combat the Ebola epidemic. The director of the radio station said that Mumbere's campaign against the virus through the media was not well received by some of the local population and armed groups operating in the area. According to press freedom organisation Reporters without Borders (RSF), the radio suspended broadcasting following the murder, and the six other journalists working for the radio fled. One of the journalists told RSF that there had been two attempts to abduct the manager of the radio station, and his house had been set on fire.

The Ebola epidemic broke out in DRC in August 2018, affecting the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, and has killed over 2,200 people since the outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The response to the epidemic has been hindered by violence against Ebola treatment centres and health workers.

Press freedom organisation Reporters without Borders (RSF) has documented a dozen cases of threats against and intimidation of journalists who cover the Ebola epidemic. This includes threatening messages, anonymous calls and the distribution of leaflets containing threats. In April 2019, following the murder of a WHO doctor in Butembo, North Kivu, leaflets were distributed threatening the 'extermination' of all medical staff working on the mitigation of the Ebola epidemic and radio stations broadcasting its messages.

Opposition media outlet raided and shut down

On 28th November 2019, police officers raided the opposition radio station Radio Liberté Buta in Buta, in the province of Bas-Uélé. The raid happened while the radio station was broadcasting a pre-recorded interview with the deputy speaker of the provincial assembly, who was criticising the provincial government. Failing to find the deputy speaker at the radio's premises, police arrested the radio technician, Junior Supa. Broadcasting equipment was confiscated, while an arrest warrant was issued for the director of the radio station, Jules Kasikila, the following day. The premises of the radio station were reportedly sealed.

Radio Liberté Buta is reportedly close to the opposition party Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) of Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Journalist arrested for criminal defamation

On 21st October 2019, judicial police officers arrested Achiko Ngaya, editor of the newspaper Les Nouvelles du Soir in Kinshasa, following a defamation complaint by a private bank, Ecobank. The complaint relates to a report on the quality of the bank's customer service on 9th August 2019. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the bank agreed to drop the complaint on condition that the paper publish the bank's response to the original report in Les Nouvelles du Soir, that it pay for the publication of the bank's response in Congo Nouveau newspaper, and pay the bank's legal fees. As Les Nouvelles du Soir agreed to these conditions, the bank dropped its complaint. Nonetheless, Ngaya was only released five days later, on 26th October, while the charge of criminal defamation remained.

Journalist physically attacked

According to local press freedom group Journalistes en Danger (JED), supporters of the opposition political party UDPS-Tshibala of former prime minister Bruno Tshibala physically attacked Dominique Dinanga, journalist for radio station Top Congo FM during a party rally on 5th October 2019, which the journalist was invited to cover. Party supporters reportedly pushed the journalist to the ground and beat him with sticks when Dinanga was negotiating his admission to the event with security staff, followed by threats, the journalist told CPJ. The journalist was admitted to hospital with injuries sustained in the attack.

Report on state of press freedom in 2019: 'New era for press freedom in DRC. End the years of predation'

In itsannual report on the state of press freedom in the DRC, published on 2nd November 2019, the CSO Journalistes en Danger (JED) said that they had registered at least 85 cases of press freedom violations in the period November 2018 to October 2019, down from 121 the previous year. The violations include censorship (40 cases), physical assault of journalists (28 cases) and arrests and detentions of journalists (16 cases).