afrol News, 8 January - According to the human rights group Amnesty International, the situation in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) has not become better since the takeover of President Joseph Kabila from his father last year. Rather, arbitrary arrests and detentions are increasing alarmingly, the group today notes.
- President Joseph Kabila should take immediate steps to ensure that his government and security forces practice what he promises the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Amnesty International urged today as reports show an alarming increase in arbitrary arrests and detentions.
In his new year address to the nation on 31 December 2001, President Kabila expressed his belief in the fundamental value of freedom. "Meanwhile his police and security services continued to arbitrarily detain and ill-treat those who dared to
- The continuing arrests of political opponents, students and journalists who have not committed a recognisably criminal offence demonstrate that promises of political openness and respect for human rights are virtually empty, Amnesty
Political opponents detained
On and around 5 December 2001, five members of one of the Congo Kinshasa's main political parties, the Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social (UDPS), Union for Democracy and Social Progress, were arrested after a meeting which was reportedly held to plan a demonstration through the streets of the capital, Kinshasa. The demonstration, which was apparently due to take place on 14 December, never took place.
The five - Modeste Sadiki, Jean-Baptiste Bomanza, Roger Kankonge, Kadima Kadima and Jean-Baptiste Mwampata - are currently held in Kinshasa's main prison, the Centre pénitentiaire et de réeducation de Kinshasa (CPRK), Kinshasa Penitentiary and Reeducation Centre. Although they have been questioned about the planned march and other UDPS activities, they have not been formally charged.
- The detainees should either be charged with a recognisably criminal offence and promptly given the opportunity to answer these charges in a court of law or be immediately released, the group said.
Severe ill-treatment of students
More than 400 students were reportedly detained at the police headquarters known as the Inspection de police de Kinshasa (IPK). Many were subjected to beatings and whippings with military belts (cordelettes) and forced to use earth and sand as toothpaste until their gums bled. They were also made to walk around the paved courtyard of the IPK on their knees.
Almost all the students were released the following day, although courses at UNIKIN remain suspended and many of the students have not been allowed to return to their accommodation on the campus. Eight students, who are accused of being ringleaders of the demonstration, remain in custody.
Tensions first had mounted at UNIKIN on 12 December when police clashed with students demonstrating to demand a lowering of tuition fees. A police officer was reportedly seriously injured during clashes the following day. It has so far not been possible to confirm claims by the authorities that three police officers were killed during the disturbances.
In a separate demonstration by students at the University of Lubumbashi (UNILU), the police injured as many as seven students, at least one of whom was shot, in the capital of the southeastern province of Katanga. The students were protesting against newly introduced or increased accommodation and tuition fees.
- Those still in detention should be protected from further ill-treatment and any legal proceedings against them should conform to international human rights law and practice, including the right to legal counsel and to have their case heard by an independent judicial official, Amnesty said in its statement.
Their arrest appeared to be linked to articles published in their paper on 31 December which criticised the policies of Joseph Kabila and his government. They were initially accused of endangering state security, "a charge which is regularly abused by the government as a means of imprisoning and intimidating its critics and opponents," Amnesty notes, but the charges against them were later dropped.
Over 20 journalists were arbitrarily detained in the course of 2001, the majority for periods ranging from a few hours to several days. Freddy Loseke, editor of Libre Afrique, spent six months in prison on charges of libel, having previously been imprisoned for seven months in 2000.
President Kabila was reported to have expressed his hope that 2002 would see peace in the DRC and that all citizens would be able to move freely throughout the country and cherish the fundamental values of freedom and national unity.
- President Kabila is urged to give a tangible meaning to these words by bringing an end to the practice of arbitrarily depriving Congolese citizens of their liberty, and by guaranteeing their right to freedom of expression and freedom of association, Amnesty urged the Head of State.
Sources: Based on Amnesty International and afrol archives