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19.11.2018 Congo

DR Congo authorities free 17 pro-democracy activists

An opposition protest against the electoral process in Kinshasa on October 26. Many foes of the regime fear rigged polls in December.  By Junior D. KANNAH (AFP/File)
LISTEN NOV 19, 2018
An opposition protest against the electoral process in Kinshasa on October 26. Many foes of the regime fear rigged polls in December. By Junior D. KANNAH (AFP/File)

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have provisionally freed 17 pro-democracy activists who were arrested in the capital on November 1, one of the group said Monday.

"We have all been free since yesterday (Sunday) and we were granted provisional release," Gloria Senga, head of the Citizens' Vigilance (Vigi) movement, told AFP.

"We have been summoned to the public prosecutor's office on Friday," she added.

The 17 young activists, mainly students, are accused of "disturbing the peace and civil disobedience" as the vast central African country gears up for general elections on December 23.

Picked up by security forces while fulfilling a mission of "civil and electoral education", they were jailed in Kinshasa's central Makala prison, where they went on hunger strike to press for their release.

"They were calling on the Congolese people to vote responsibly, not out of fear," the group's lawyer Donald Kabasele told AFP, ahead of the start of the election campaign on Thursday.

The Congolese people will be called to elect a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled in wartime and peace since 2001 and had his mandate prolonged twice for a year.

The lawyer said the activists were not mistreated during their first experience of prison, though overall conditions are "inhuman".

"In the cell, they couldn't wash themselves and they had to sleep on the floor.

"Today (Monday), they must see their doctor because the conditions of their detention were out of the ordinary," the lawyer added.

On November 9, British NGO Freedom from Torture cast a spotlight on the DRC, declaring that the army, police and intelligence services regularly tortured political and human rights activists.

The group's report titled "A Tool to Silence: Torture to Crush Dissent in the Democratic Republic of Congo" detailed atrocities across the country, which shares its vast mineral wealth with foreign firms but is scarred by persistent and brutal violence in several provinces.

In a report based on testimony and medical evidence from "74 men and women who escaped and fled to safety in the UK", Freedom from Torture documented "sexual torture, burning, positional torture and electric shocks".

"Gang rape was common: more than half of those who were raped described multiple perpetrators, while others watched. The rapes were sometimes accompanied by beating, burning and cutting to further punishment or force compliance," the text added.

Human Right Watch (HRW), based in New York, has also reported on the "frequent use of torture" of people suspected of opposing the regime, along with systematic arrests.

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