Rights group asks DR Congo to free youth activists
March 15, Kinshasa: Congolese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release two activists who were arrested one year ago during a pro-democracy youth workshop in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala face trumped-up charges in an apparently politically motivated drive to silence dissent. On March 16, 2016, the Supreme Court of Justice is expected to issue a decision on whether to grant the two provisional release.
The arrest of the two activists was part of a growing government crackdown on those speaking out against efforts to extend President Joseph Kabila’s stay in power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ends on December 19.
“The continued detention of Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala a year after their arrest is a stark reminder of the Congolese authorities’ willingness to silence peaceful protest,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately drop the baseless charges and release Bauma, Makwambala, and other activists and politicians held solely for peacefully expressing their political views.”
Congo’s National Intelligence Agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR), arrested Bauma and Makwambala on March 15, 2015, with at least two dozen others, including Senegalese and Burkinabe activists, a United States diplomat, foreign and Congolese journalists, and Congolese activists, musicians, artists, and logisticians. They were attending a workshop in Kinshasa to introduce Filimbi, a platform to encourage Congolese youth to peacefully and responsibly perform their civic duties. In the following days, the intelligence services also arrested another Filimbi activist and others associated with Filimbi, including a graphic artist who designed the Filimbi logo and Rawbank employees who managed the Filimbi bank account.
During a news conference on March 18, 2015, Communications Minister Lambert Mende said that the Filimbi leaders were planning “terrorist activities” and a “violent insurrection.” He provided no evidence to back up the allegations.
While the others were eventually released, Bauma and Makwambala were illegally held at an intelligence agency detention facility for 50 and 40 days, respectively, without charge and without access to their families and lawyers. They were then transferred to Kinshasa’s central prison, where they remain. Bauma is a member of the pro-democracy youth movement Struggle for Change (Lutte pour le Changement, LUCHA) from the eastern city of Goma, while Makwambala is a web expert from Kinshasa who helped design the Filimbi website.
On June 3, Bauma, Makwambala, and four other Filimbi leaders who had fled Kinshasa to escape arrest, were charged with belonging to an association formed for the purpose of attacking people and property, plotting a conspiracy against the head of state, and attempting to either destroy or change the constitutional regime or incite violence against state authority. Bauma was also charged with disturbing the peace, and Makwambala with publicly offending the head of state.
Over the past year, Congolese and international politicians, human rights activists, students, and others have mobilized to support Bauma and Makwambala and urged Congolese authorities to release them.
On April 20, a parliamentary “information mission,” established to examine how Congo’s security services managed the Filimbi dossier, reported that they found no evidence indicating that the Filimbi leaders and workshop participants were involved in or planning any terrorist or other violent crimes. Following a debate about the report during closed sessions of parliament on June 12 and 13, Congo’s National Assembly recommended a “political solution” that would allow for the release of the Bauma and Makwambala, members of parliament who attended the debate told Human Rights Watch.
On June 15, a coalition of 234 Congolese and international rights organizations called for the immediate and unconditional release of Bauma and Makwambala.
On July 9, the European Parliament passed a resolution focused on Bauma’s and Makwambala’s case, and the call for their immediate release was echoed in a subsequent European Parliament resolution passed on March 10, 2016. Officials from the United Nations and the United States have also repeatedly raised concerns about the continued detention of Bauma and Makwambala.
On the one-year anniversary of their arrest, Bauma and Makwambala are starting a hunger strike to protest their continued detention, according to LUCHA activists. Also on March 15, more than 700 letters from Congolese citizens from across the country are to be delivered to the president’s office in Kinshasa, calling on Kabila to release the two activists.
“President Kabila should not ignore the growing coalition of voices calling for the release of Bauma and Makwambala,” Sawyer said. “Acting now to release the activists would signal that the government does not oppose Congolese youth and others who want to freely and peacefully express their views in support of the democratic process.
The Oslo Times