ProtectDefenders.eu’s partners received worrying information regarding the situation of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Thirteen human rights defenders, members of the organisation LUCHA (Lutte pour le Change – Fight for Change), have been violently and arbitrarily arrested by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and the police during a peaceful protest in November 2021. The HRDs had been peacefully expressing their indignation concerning the security situation in Beni-Ituri, where at least 672 civilians have been killed by unidentified armed groups from May to September 2021, and denouncing the ineffectiveness of the current state of siege. Despite not being formally charged nor brought before a judge, the defenders were accused by the Mayor of Beni of violating the state of siege declared in the North-Kivu region and inciting civil disobedience. The human rights defenders are unlawfully detained at the Kangbayi prison. The conditions there are very poor with three defenders sick, with sustained injuries and in need of medical attention.
Since the state of siege was declared, more than 21 LUCHA activists have been arrested. Two have been provisionally released while another, fearing for his safety, has been forced into hiding. From January to November 2021, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) documented 6,469 human rights violations throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Furthermore, ProtectDefenders.eu partners received information regarding threats, intimidations and attacks against M. Dismas Kitenge, president of Groupe Lotus – a non-governmental organisation based in Kisangani. Mr Kitengo received several calls and was threatened and insulted by military judicial authorities after posting messages on social networks denouncing the arrest by the military justice system of Dr. Eric Jakwonga Upoki in the case of the murder of a Republican Guard soldier and the intimidation by the military in the vicinity of the university clinics in Kisangani. In these messages, he called for social mobilisation and the organisation of peaceful protest actions. He also warned of the danger of the non-application of the rules of the rule of law in Tshopo province.
This is not the first time Dismas Kitenge has been threatened and intimidated. In September 2020, Mr Kitenge and his family received death threats and verbal abuse via anonymous phone calls because of Mr Kitenge’s stance against the DRC authorities and public figures.
Under Joseph Kabila, violence against journalists spread with complete impunity and the instigators of the ten murders of journalists during his presidency were never brought to justice. The freedom to inform was also curtailed online by frequent Internet cuts or by blocking access to social media, as was the case during the most recent presidential election in 2018. Although there was a slight let-up when the new president, Félix Tshisekedi, took office in January 2019, press freedom violations – including arrests, attacks, threats, murders and the ransacking or closure of media outlets – continue to take place at an alarming rate. No fewer than 115 press freedom violations were logged in 2020 by Journalist in Danger (JED), RSF’s partner organisation in the DRC. Several journalists were detained in response to complaints by provincial governors, an RFI correspondent was sued by a former minister, and many journalists were attacked, threatened or forced into hiding by the armed groups prevalent in the east of the country. A journalist is also missing, although an armed group told his family they executed him three days after abducting him. Several journalists with many online followers have been the victims of smear campaigns.