Tuesday, March 24, 2020

In recent years the Congolese authorities have used harassment and prosecution as tools to silence opposition

Amnesty International is calling on the Congolese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release five opposition supporters detained for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.  One of them is spending his fourth month in detention.
Parfait Mabiala, supporter of the opposition movement “Incarner l’espoir” has been in jail since his arrest on 23 November 2019 in Pointe-Noire. Three others, Franck Donald Saboukoulou Loubaki, Guil Miangué Ossebi and Meldry Rolf Dissavoulou were later arrested between 13 and 17 December 2019 in Brazzaville. Celeste Nlemvo Makela, an activist with the citizen movement Ras-Le-Bol was arrested on 22 December 2019. The organisation calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

“In a country where the authorities claim to promote human rights and deny the existence of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, what we have seen in the last years and what we are now witnessing clearly shows an ongoing detention of opposition supporters, human rights defenders and activists. This is a sign that the authorities are intensifying the onslaught on dissenting voices,” said Fabien Offner, Amnesty International’s Central Africa Researcher.

“These politically motivated arrests are especially alarming because several opposition candidates, human rights defenders and activists that have been arbitrarily arrested since the 2016 election are still in prison. The Congolese authorities are again attempting to use harassment and prosecution as tools to silence opposition. They must drop all charges against these detainees and immediately and unconditionally release them.”

The opposition supporters have been charged with violating the state’s interior security. Amnesty International considers they are in prison solely for being associated with organizations which offer critical views regarding the situation of human rights and rule of law in Congo. This is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, both of which Congo has ratified. 

They were arrested on rumors of planned demonstration and interrogated on their links with the leaders of Incarner l’espoir, Ras-le-Bol and other movements. Incarner l’espoir movement is led by a political opponent based in France who officially declared himself candidate for the 2021 presidential election.

Celeste Nlemvo Makela, the Ras-le-Bol activist has been charged with “incitement causing public disorder" in accordance with the 21 August 2006 law on political parties, though he is not part of any.  On 3 March 2020 another member of Ras-le-bol, Hallel Bouesse, was arrested at Maya-Maya International Airport in Brazzaville as he was about to fly to Dakar. He was taken to the General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (Direction Générale de Surveillance du Territoire) to be questioned on his links with "Incarner l’espoir” and a Congolese human rights organization, before being released in the evening.

In recent years the Congolese authorities have used harassment and prosecution as tools to silence opposition. The rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and access to information have been at risk in Congo where trade unionists, political opponents, civil society members, journalists and lawyers have been regularly harassed and targeted simply for doing their work.

Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former candidate for the 2016 presidential election, was sentenced in 2018 to 20 years of prison on charges of “attack on the internal security of the state, illegal possession of weapons and ammunition of war.

Despite a public statement by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention describing Mokoko’s detention as arbitrary and calling for his immediate release, he is still in prison, along with other opposition activists and candidates like André Okombi Salissa, whose detention has also been considered as arbitrary by the UN Working Group.