Democratic Republic of the Congo: Police crackdown on demonstrations are a way to silence dissent

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Police crackdown on demonstrations are a way to silence dissent

ROME - On 20 May 2023 in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the high cost of living and against the first irregularities in the organization of the presidential elections to be held on 20 December. But the demonstrations were forcefully repressed by policemen who, in riot gear, fired tear gas canisters and arrested at least a dozen demonstrators. According to the government and the police, the march had been authorized but in a different area from the one in which it was taking place. Subsequently, the Congolese minister for human rights, Albert-Fabrice Puela, condemned the acts of repression and brutality against the demonstrators, including minors.

Participants and organizers. A coalition of opposition political parties announced the march on May 12 to denounce the high cost of living, the opacity of the electoral process and the persistent insecurity in eastern Congo. Protesters included Martin Fayulu of the Commitment to Citizenship and Development party, Moise Katumbi of Together for the Republic, Matata Ponyo of Leadership and Governance for Development, Delly Sesanga of Set of Volunteers for the Recovery of the DRC and Augustin Matata, former Prime Minister. But opposition leaders have been stranded in their cars due to the action of law enforcement agencies.

Police intervention. Officers dispersed the protesters, arrested dozens and injured at least 30, he wrote Human Rights Watch. Even a child was beaten. The police said they had opened an investigation against the demonstrators and captured those responsible for the violence. On May 22, President Felix Tshisekedi, elected in 2019 and now seeking re-election, publicly congratulated the police chief for silencing protesters. But Tshisekedi's words suggest that the investigations into the violence will not be impartial and that the government is encouraging the excessive use of force to extinguish dissent. "The president shouldn't reward senior officials when protesters are violently repressed, but he should ensure that investigations are credible and fair and that all abusers are properly sanctioned or prosecuted," said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy director for Africa at Human Rights Watch.

The witness. Bienvenu Matumo, an activist and member of the citizen movement La Lucha, said that a dozen policemen intervened to disperse the demonstrators. He, along with others, were beaten and punched, then taken to a cell where they were held for more than five hours. Several videos on social networks show officers beating people on the street with wooden sticks. In some neighborhoods the police fired tear gas and some demonstrators, to defend themselves, threw stones and bullets. The toll is 30 law enforcement officers who were injured; 20 people arrested for destroying a police office and three other policemen arrested for beating protesters.

international condemnation. Members of civil society groups, the European Union, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO), the US embassy and the Catholic Church have all condemned the violent crackdown and called for respect for civil liberties in the run-up to the elections.

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