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Activist Jean-Marie Kalonji & lawyer Sylva Mbikayi Kabanga detained in DRC

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 28 June 2017.

Congolese security forces arrested pro-democracy youth activist Jean-Marie Kalonji and his friend and lawyer, Sylva Mbikayi Kabanga, on June 23, 2017, in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They remain in detention at the military intelligence headquarters without charge or access to family or legal counsel.

Kalonji is the coordinator of the pro-democracy movement La Quatrième Voie/Il Est Temps RDC (Fourth Way/It is Time DRC). Soldiers arrested him while he was returning home after visiting his brother's home in the Bumba military camp in Kinshasa.

A member of Kalonji's group was on the phone with Kalonji at the time of his arrest and overheard Kalonji's conversation with the soldiers. The soldiers reportedly told Kalonji he "doesn't like Congo." To which Kalonji replied he worked "for the good" of the country. He told the soldiers he was a member of La Quatrième Voie and explained the movement's objectives.

The soldiers took him to an office in the camp. Kalonji's lawyer, Mbikayi, arrived at the camp as soon as he was alerted by the colleague Kalonji had been on the phone with. But instead of letting Mbikayi assist his client, soldiers arrested him, and confiscated their belongings and cash. The two were then taken to the military intelligence headquarters.

A relative of Mbikayi was prevented from bringing him food. In Congo, detainees often only eat if family members bring food to the prison. "I'm really stunned," Mbikayi's family member said. "I don't know how this country is ruled. How can you arrest a lawyer who comes to help a person? There's no justice in this country."

This isn't the first time Kalonji has been arbitrarily detained. On December 15, 2015, Kalonji was arrested and detained by the intelligence agency in Kinshasa for 132 days, without charge or access to family or a lawyer. He was eventually transferred to Kinshasa's central prison, where he remained until his release on August 27, 2016.

Congolese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Kalonji and Mbikayi or charge them with a credible offense. Pro-democracy activists and lawyers should be able to work freely and express peaceful opinions without fear of arrest.

Meanwhile, in Goma, four artists arrested on June 23 have been released. Benoit Mugabo, Benito Mupenzi, Precy Numbi, and Cruzz Taylor had organized an artistic demonstration to protest the killings across the central Kasai region and in Beni in North Kivu province. Covered in fake blood, they lay on the side of the road, bearing crosses for the thousands killed. Police arrested them, accused them of inciting disobedience and rebellion, and sent them to prison.

A video shows the artists in handcuffs, shortly after their arrest, surrounded by police officers and bystanders. Mugabo, a photographer, asserts, "Look at what's done to those who speak out! Look at the handcuffs!" Turning to a police officer, he adds, "You have handcuffs here to come arrest me. Go and arrest those who kill students in Beni!" - referring to a mortar attack the previous day in a building where exams were being held, which wounded five students. At least 700 people, and possibly many more, have been killed in Beni territory since October 2014.

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