Election campaigning will take place in a hostile political environment that leaves little room for people to freely and safely exercise their human rights, Amnesty International said.
The concern came ahead of tomorrow’s kick-off of political campaigns for the long-awaited elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Official campaigns kick-off on 22 November running up to 21 December.
The government maintains a blanket ban on protests other than those organized by politicians close to outgoing President Joseph Kabila. Opposition supporters, as well as people calling for improvements to security and services, have faced threats, intimidation, harassment, arrests and violent dispersal often resulting in deaths and injuries.
“The authorities’ determination to silence dissent couldn’t be more evident through their ceaseless silencing of any kind of criticism or public demand, whether it touches on the country’s dire security situation, social grievances or the ongoing electoral process,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
On 15 November, two students from the University of Kinshasa died from gunshot wounds after police illegally used lethal force on campus to disperse students peacefully protesting an ongoing lecturers’ strike. Those who fired the shots have been arrested and charged in court, but officers higher up in the chain of command are yet to be held to account for deploying armed police officers to the university campus.
In August, five people were killed in Lubumbashi when they took to the streets after exiled opposition leader Moise Katumbi was barred from returning to the country to register as a presidential candidate.
“The authorities have shown outright bias and selectivity in allowing the ruling party’s public rallies while cracking down on dissent, rallies and protests by the opposition supporters and critics of the government,” said Joan Nyanyuki.
Since August 2018 when President Kabila made it clear he would uphold the constitution and not stand for a third term, Amnesty International has documented more than 150 arbitrary arrests and detentions countrywide, including of 28 youth activists in Kinshasa who allegedly questioned the credibility of the upcoming elections.
At least 50 of the arbitrarily arrested people were subject to prolonged detention, some were beaten. Two police officers were arrested and detained in September for two weeks for “passivity” and “violation of instructions from hierarchy” because they did not disperse a peaceful protest by activists of the Lutte pour le Changement (fight for change) – La LUCHA movement in Kananga, central DRC.
“The endemic display of heavy-handedness by the police to quell dissent and protests undermines and threatens the people’s freedom to exercise of human rights before, during and after the campaign and election period,” Joan Nyanyuki said.
The authorities must immediately lift the blanket ban on public gatherings and allow everyone to peacefully organize and attend meetings and rallies without interference.
The government must also immediately release all people arbitrarily detained simply for peacefully protesting including four Filimbi activists who have been in detention since December 2017 and seven Les Congolais Debout activists, held incommunicado since September 2018. Political and pro-democracy activists who are in exile must be allowed to return to the country and continue their activities.
Amnesty International also calls on the government to ensure the internet and social media will not in any way be disrupted and that journalists can do their work unhindered.
“We are concerned that the government has effected the July 2017 requirement for foreign correspondents to seek accreditation each time they want to travel to parts of the country other than where they were originally accredited. This requirement is a serious infringement on press freedom and must be scrapped immediately,” said Joan Nyanyuki.
“Both national and foreign journalists must be able to freely move within DRC to promptly cover events of public interest without having to get permission each time.”
The government must make every effort to guarantee security during the campaigns and elections and hold to account anyone suspected to be responsible for human rights violations.
The UN peacekeeping forces must also proactively play their part in protecting civilians from any harm, be it from government or rebel forces, as mandated by the UN Security Council.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will hold its long overdue presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections on 23 December 2018, more than two years late. The elections were initially scheduled for November 2016.
Over 40 million people have been registered to vote for more than 15,000 candidates who will contest 500 seats in the National Assembly, and more than 19,000 candidates for the country’s 26 provincial assembly seats.
The upcoming elections have been marked with controversy and protests over ‘the independence of the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), the use of electronic voting machines and the voters’ roll’, which was audited by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) revealing six million voters without fingerprints.
President Joseph Kabila, whose term officially ended in 2016, remained in office announcing in August that he would not be standing in the forthcoming elections, picking former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as his party’s presidential candidate