Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned by the reaction of some authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to a meeting of political opposition and civil society representatives in Dakar, Senegal, from December 12 to 14, 2015. The meeting was co-organized by the Congolese pro-democracy youth movement Filimbi and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a German democracy foundation that also partly financed the meeting.
According to the organizers and participants at the Dakar meeting, the meeting discussed a common strategy for non-violent action to urge for timely presidential elections and a peaceful transition of power to a new democratically elected president in 2016, in accordance with the Congolese constitution and Congolese laws.
The Dakar meeting brought together Congolese political leaders, civil society representatives, and youth activists. Political leaders from Namibia, Togo, Tanzania and other African countries also participated in the meeting to share experiences and discuss electoral challenges across Africa.
For the past year, Congolese opposition and civil society leaders have spoken out repeatedly against attempts to extend President Joseph Kabila's term in office beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ends in December 2016.
On December 13, in an interview with the Agence France Presse (AFP), Lambert Mende, the Congolese Communications Minister, said he had “elements” indicating that the objective of the meeting in Dakar was to “destabilize [Congolese] institutions.” He said the attitude of Senegalese authorities who permitted the meeting was “unacceptable” and that it represented a “strong dose of irresponsibility.”
From Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch:
“There is nothing illegal or destabilizing about Congolese people exercising their rights to meet to discuss elections or to plan peaceful protests, whether in Congo or elsewhere.
Allegations by government officials that people who discuss or speak out against an extension of President Kabila's term in office beyond the constitutionally mandated two-term limit are conspiring to destabilize Congolese institutions or plotting criminal acts are without basis.
Such remarks are just the latest example of government efforts to clamp down on the political opposition and other perceived opponents of the government. All Congolese citizens have the right to hold meetings, discuss elections, and organize and participate in peaceful protests without being locked up, mistreated, threatened or killed by government officials or security forces, as has so often been the case in the past year.
Congolese authorities should act now to reverse the deepening political repression and ensure that all Congolese — including participants at the Dakar meeting — are able to freely express their opinions and participate in peaceful meetings, demonstrations, and other activities.”
Note for Background
The meeting in Dakar was co-organized by Filimbi, a Congolese pro-democracy youth movement. At the end of a workshop in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, in March 2015 to launch Filimbi, about 30 participants were arrested, including Congolese and West African youth activists, journalists, musicians, and others. At the time, Congolese Communications Minister Lambert Mende accused Filimbi of plotting “terrorist activities” and a “violent insurrection.”
A parliamentary “information mission,” established on March 27 to examine how Congo's security services managed the Filimbi dossier, found no evidence that the Filimbi leaders and workshop participants were involved in or planning any terrorist or other violent crimes. Congo's National Assembly later recommended that a “political solution” be found that would allow for the release of the Filimbi activists still in detention and for all charges against Filimbi leaders to be dropped. Currently, two Filimbi activists remain in detention: Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala. Several other Filimbi leaders fear arrest if they return to Congo and have sought asylum abroad.