Amnesty calls on DRC authorities to release youth activists arrested for peaceful protest
CAPE TOWN - International human rights organisation Amnesty International has called on authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to immediately and unconditionally release 10 youth activists who were arrested during a peaceful protest to demand the protection of civilians in Beni Town.
The prosecution last week requested 10 years’ imprisonment against the youth who are now facing malicious charges just for participating in the protest, the organisation said.
It said eight of the 10 activists, belonging to the youth movement, Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA), were arrested in Beni on December 19 after they staged a protest to denounce what they saw as the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force’s failure to protect civilians in the area.
Two other activists, also belonging to LUCHA, were arrested in Beni on January 7, during a peaceful protest against a new taxation on motorcycle taxis.
“The arrests and subsequent prosecutions of these youth activists for merely asking for the protection of civilians in Beni is a travesty and amounts to persecution. This persecution contravenes the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“Instead of persecuting them, Congolese authorities ought to have appropriately responded to their demands for effective protection of civilians against ongoing killings and kidnappings in the affected areas. The authorities must drop all charges against them.”
The eight activists are facing charges of “wicked destruction and sabotage” and have been detained since December 19. Their hearing started on December 21 before the Beni-Butembo garrison military court, the organisation said.
According to the prosecution, they are being tried by a military court because the destruction and sabotage they are accused of would have occurred inside police facilities, which the activists and witnesses say is a “complete fabrication”.
During their arrest and detention, the activists were subjected to beatings by police officers and other inmates. Efforts by their lawyers to challenge the competence of the military jurisdiction on their case were rejected.
Jeanpy Lufungula and Grace Matembela, the two LUCHA activists who were arrested in the town of Beni, during a peaceful protest against a new tax on motorcycle taxis have since been unlawfully detained, Amnesty said.
They are yet to be brought before a judge to face formal charges.
“Authorities must drop cynical charges against these activists and respect, protect and ensure the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as enshrined in the Constitution and international human rights treaties to which the DRC is a state party,” said Jackson.
“The Congolese authorities, under the leadership of President Félix Tshisekedi whose start of office in 2019 was marked by some human rights progress, must stop treating peaceful dissent with contempt. The government should not go back to the days of the Kabila government when LUCHA activists and others were routinely arrested and arbitrarily detained.”
Since 2014, thousands of civilians have been killed in repeated attacks the authorities attribute to the Ugandan militant group, the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) in eastern DRC’s Beni region.
Despite a heavy UN and Congolese army presence in the region and multiple military operations, killings and abduction continue almost daily.
Activists have accused both the Congolese authorities and the UN of failing to protect the population. Their demands for effective protection and justice have often been met with a brutal crackdown.
– African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Devereaux Morkel