Rights groups: increase in violations in 2020

Rights groups and UN: increase in human rights violations in 2020

Rights organisations have raised concern at the increase of human rights violations in the country in 2020. In its annual report, titled 'The return of the predators' and published on 2nd November 2020, Congolese press freedom organisation Journaliste en Danger (JED) said they had documented 116 press freedom violations, up from 85 the previous year. The majority of violations, which includes one journalist killed  and tens of journalists detained, were perpetrated by state actors (authorities and security forces), followed by members and supporters of political parties and armed groups.  

In a report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the administration under president Félix Tshisekedi has increasingly cracked down on media and activist groups. The organisation found at least 109 cases of arbitrary detention and harassment in the past year. Journalists have been subjected to threats, intimidation and at times beatings. Thomas Fessy of HRW commented: 

"People in Congo shouldn’t have to fear harassment or arrest for criticising or peacefully protesting government policy. Two years on, Tshisekedi’s commitments to respecting rights are starting to sound like broken promises."

The UN Joint Human Rights Office in DRC noted an 21 percent increase in the number of human rights violations in 2020 - 7,909 violations - compared to 2019 due to a deterioration in the security situation in provinces that are affected by armed conflict, notably Nord-Kivu, Sud-Kivu and Ituri. 935 violations of fundamental rights linked to democratic space were documented in 2020 and, of the 1,002 victims, 39 percent were members of civil society.


LUCHA activists arrested during peaceful protests

Ten LUCHA activists were arrested during peaceful protests in Beni. Eight activists were arrested on 19th December 2020 during a protest criticising the UN peacekeeping mission's (MONUSCO) ability to protect civilians in eastern DRC. The eight - Eze Kasereka, Clovis Mutsuva, Consolée Mukirania, Elie Mbusa, Patrick Nzila, Délivrance Mumbere, Aziz Muhindovegheni and Lwanzo Kasereka - were brought before a military court on charges of 'sabotage and violence against state security guards', facing ten years in prison. The eight were acquitted on 20th January 2021. Two other LUCHA activists - Jeanpy Lufungula and Grace Matembela - were arrested on 7th January 2021 in Beni while protesting against a new tax on motorcycle taxis. 


Arbitrary detentions, summons, criminal defamation charges against journalists

Prosecutors summoned Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent Pascal Mulegwa to appear before a court in Kinshasa on 22nd December 2020 for criminal defamation. The defamation complaint, brought by former Minister of Transport and current Senator José Makila, relates to an article the journalist published on 20th September 2020 in which he quoted a report by the NGO Observatoire de la dépense publique (ODEP) accusing José Makila of having embezzled funds to finance his election campaign. Mulegwa, who was previously summoned and questioned over the article by prosecutors in the Kinshasa district of Gombe in October, told Reporters without Borders: 

"The former minister wasn’t even the target of the story. I contacted him before the story was broadcast. He sued me 24 hours later.”

Freelance journalist Pius Romain Rolland Ngoie was arrested on 22nd December 2020 in Kinshasa following a criminal defamation complaint by member of Parliament Fabrice Puela of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the political party of president Tshisekedi. The complaint reportedly relates to comments that Ngoie made in a programme by Radio Télévision Groupe Avenir (RTGA), saying that according to his sources Puela had used blackmail to extract money from the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Jeanine Mabunda. He was transferred to the Makala prison on 24th December 2020. 

Two media workers with accreditation to the presidential palace - journalist Odinolas Mobala and cameraman Roublain Bamba - were arrested and taken to the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) on 3rd November 2020. The two media workers for the popular current affairs programme Bosolo na politik, which is broadcast on several TV channels, were detained after they filmed and broadcast a scene showing two presidential advisors failing to stand up when president Tshisekedi entered the room. The journalists were covering the national consultations initiated by the president. Mobala and Bamba were released on 4th November 2020. 

Journalists threatened by armed groups

According to Journaliste en Danger (JED), two journalists of Radio Canal Révélation based in Bunia, Ituri province, were subjected to intimidation and death threats by individuals claiming to belong to the armed group Force Patriotique et Intégrationniste du Congo (FPIC), also known as Chini ya Kilima. Since 8th January 2021, Freddy Upar and Nicolas Synthe Awacang'o have been receiving threatening text messages and telephone calls from armed militia members accusing the journalists of siding with the DRC's armed forces. 

On 12th January 2021, members of the Mai Mai armed group visited the premises of community radio Raka FM in Kazimia, in the province of Sud-Kivu, looking for the radio's director Jacques Mulengwa. They promised to return when they discovered Mulengwa was not present. According to RSF, the visit came hours after the radio station broadcast a statement of the armed forces accusing the Mai Mai rebel group of attacking a nearby locality two days earlier. Mulengwa stopped working at the station in fear for his life. RSF has documented at least 13 abuses against journalists and media outlets by the Mai Mai since 2019. 

Journalists beaten during student protest

On 12th January 2021, police agents beat and physically assaulted several journalists while they were covering a student protest in Bukavu, Sud-Kivu province, while confiscating materials belonging to some journalists. Jérémie Matabaro of Radio Canal Futur was interviewing students when six police officers approached him, started chasing him and threw him to the ground before beating the journalist in the stomach and chest despite Matabaro displaying his press card. Other journalists who were attacked include cameraman Prince Cikala of Focus Congo, Bertin Buloza of, Emmanuel Dewar Chuma of Radio Ngoma ya mataifa and Claude Musengero of Kivu Avenir.