Human Rights Watch
(Kinshasa) – Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo
should immediately drop the apparently politically motivated case
against a member of parliament. Muhindo Nzangi was sentenced to three
years in prison over comments he made on a radio program in proceedings
that did not meet international fair trial standards. His prosecution
reflects a broader government crackdown on free expression in the
On August 13, 2013, two days after speaking on a radio program in the
eastern city of Goma, Nzangi was tried, convicted, and sentenced for
endangering internal state security. On August 20, police violently
disrupted a peaceful sit-in by dozens of Nzangi supporters outside the
North Kivu governor’s office in Goma. The police beat several protesters
and arrested five, who were threatened with rebellion charges, though
all were released by the next day. Nzangi is a member of the Movement
for Social Renewal (Mouvement social pour le renouveau, or MSR), one of the largest political parties in the ruling presidential majority (Majorité présidentielle, or MP)coalition.
“A member of parliament was arrested, summarily tried and sent off to
prison solely for expressing his views,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa
researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This sadly is just the latest attempt
by government officials to use the courts to silence dissent.”
Congolese authorities should drop their questionable case against
Nzangi and end the crackdown against his supporters, Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch has documented 84 cases since May 2012 in which
politicians, political party activists, journalists, and human rights
activists were arrested or threatened by the authorities because of
their political views or published opinions.
Nzangi, a member of parliament from Goma, participated in a
two-and-a-half-hour debate on Radio Kivu 1 on August 11. He and the
other participants discussed the crisis concerning the M23, a Rwanda-backed rebel group active in North Kivu province, and the role of civil society.
Nzangi said that the Congolese people should call on the government to
end talks with the M23 rebels in Kampala, Uganda and continue military
operations against them. He urged people to direct their pressure toward
Congolese President Joseph Kabila as well as the United Nations
peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, by holding “peaceful actions”
such as marches and sit-ins. He acknowledged the risk of demonstrations
turning violent and said that angry demonstrators may be tempted to
throw stones at MONUSCO vehicles, but called for advance measures to be
taken to prevent and control such a risk.
Nzangi told Human Rights Watch that shortly after the radio debate he
received a call from someone who warned him: “The president is very
upset with you. Flee if you can.”
Hours later, Nzangi was arrested. He was flown to the capital,
Kinshasa, and charged with endangering internal state security,
revealing defense secrets, and insulting the president. Because he was
allegedly “caught in the act” (flagrante delicto), Nzangi was
not protected by parliamentary immunity. His trial before the Supreme
Court began immediately, denying him the right to have adequate time to
prepare a defense.
The day after Nzangi’s conviction, his political party suspended its
participation in the ruling coalition and publicly condemned the “parody
of justice.” Following a meeting between MSR members and Kabila on
August 16, the party announced it would resume participation in the
International law provides that everyone convicted of a crime has a
right to appeal their conviction to a higher tribunal. Nzangi was tried
by the Supreme Court, yet Congolese law only permits reconsideration of
Supreme Court verdicts if there is new evidence and the minister of
justice and human rights requests the Supreme Court to reexamine the
Following a promise made during his state of the nation address on
December 15, 2012, Kabila issued an ordinance in June outlining the
organization of national consultations that would bring together all
sectors of society to “reflect, exchange and debate, in all liberty and
without constraint, the ways and means possible for consolidating
national cohesion.” The consultations are due to start on September 4.
“If President Kabila is serious about creating open dialogue, a first
step should be to let politicians, journalists, activists and others say
what they think without risking jail,” Sawyer said. “Everyone who is
locked up for their peaceful political views should immediately be
released and charges dropped.”
Government Efforts to Silence Dissenting Voices or Settle Scores
The 84 cases documented by Human Rights Watch since May 2012
involved 68 people who were arbitrarily arrested and 16 others who were
allegedly threatened or beaten by state agents. The victims were
journalists, human rights activists, political party activists, and
political leaders who appear to have been targeted because they
participated in demonstrations or publicly expressed views at odds with
local, provincial, or national officials. Just over half of those
detained were released within 48 hours, often after paying a fine or
after a human rights organization intervened. Others were held for
several weeks or months.
In many cases, state security forces beat those detained during arrest
or while they were in custody, and took their mobile phones, money, and
other possessions. In the majority of cases Human Rights Watch
documented, those arrested were never brought before a judge or formally
charged. In 16 cases, those arrested were tried and convicted in trials
that did not appear to meet international fair trial standards.
Twenty-two of the cases examined by Human Rights Watch involved
journalists who were threatened, beaten, or detained for reporting on
the political opposition or other events that government officials or
state agents did not want to be publicized. A female journalist told
Human Rights Watch that in November 2012 she was beaten with batons,
punched, slapped, and kicked by policemen while reporting on a
demonstration in Kinshasa protesting the fall of Goma to M23 rebels. The
police accused her of writing in her notebook that the police were
threatening the protesters. On March 10, police and Republican Guard
soldiers beat or threatened four journalists for covering the opposition
leader Etienne Tshisekedi’s return to Kinshasa from South Africa.
Security forces have also beaten or detained political party activists
during peaceful demonstrations. During the summit of francophone
countries in Kinshasa in October 2012, 14 opposition supporters were
arrested near Tshisekedi’s home as they prepared to accompany his convoy
to a meeting he was to have with the French president, François
Hollande. Most were badly beaten and detained for several days, without
being brought to trial.
Detention of Eugène Diomi Ndongala
Eugène Diomi Ndongala, a former member of parliament and minister, has
been detained since April in another apparently politically motivated
case to silence dissent. He is awaiting trial.
Diomi is the president of the opposition Christian Democrats (Démocratie chrétienne) political party and a founding member of the Popular Presidential Majority (Majorité présidentielle populaire)
– a pro-Tshisekedi political alliance. Diomi was elected to parliament
in Kinshasa in 2011, but boycotted parliamentary debates and votes to
protest the presidential election that was widely criticized as fraudulent and lacking credibility. Following a request from the attorney general, the parliament voted to lift Diomi’s parliamentary immunity on January 8.
On January 18, an arrest warrant was issued, charging Diomi with having
repeated sexual relations with two under-age girls in June 2012.
Diomi’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that for the next two-and-a-half
months, the authorities pressured Diomi to accept a deal in which
charges would be dropped if Diomi agreed to take his seat in parliament.
When Diomi refused, he was arrested on April 8.
Three days later, government officials held a news conference, accusing
Diomi of plotting to assassinate the president and prime minister. They
displayed a machete, empty bottles, and gasoline, which they said Diomi
and 13 others planned to use to make Molotov cocktails. Diomi was never
officially charged with these offenses.
Congolese law specifies that alleged perpetrators of sexual violence
should be tried within three months after judicial authorities are
notified of the case. More than four months have already passed since
Diomi’s arrest. Because of his prolonged absence, on June 15 Diomi’s
mandate as a member of parliament was invalidated.
A year earlier, in June 2012, Diomi disappeared for four months. He
reappeared in October and later told Human Rights Watch that he had been
held in secret detention centers by Congo’s National Intelligence
Agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignement) and questioned and threatened about his political activities – a charge the agency denies.
Diomi is in Kinshasa’s central prison, despite three court orders from
Congo’s Supreme Court to hold him under house arrest pending
adjudication of his case. The attorney general told Human Rights Watch
on August 21 that Diomi is no longer a member of parliament and
therefore does not have the right to be placed under house arrest
instead of being held in prison. The attorney general also said that he
is empowered to decide how to execute Supreme Court orders. He said that
Kinshasa’s central prison “was the only residence [he] had available”
and that he could not allow Diomi to go elsewhere, where he might
Supreme Court officials told Human Rights Watch that there is no legal
basis for the attorney general’s refusal to execute the court’s orders.
They said that Diomi should be under house arrest because he was a
member of parliament at the time the alleged crime was committed, and
that the fact that his status was lifted is irrelevant.
Diomi has suffered from health problems while in detention. His lawyer
told Human Rights Watch that Diomi has lost full functioning of his arm
because of nerve problems, and that the prison hospital center was
unable to provide the necessary treatment. The prison director told
Human Rights Watch that he has not allowed Diomi to seek treatment
elsewhere because of concerns that Diomi would use the time in a
hospital outside of the prison for political activities.
During a Supreme Court hearing on August 26, Diomi’s trial was
postponed for a third time, until September 16. Diomi’s lawyer told
Human Rights Watch that Diomi was not provided with transportation to go
from the prison to the court for the hearing and had to make his own
arrangements. By the time he reached the court, the trial had already
been postponed due to his absence.
The attorney general should immediately carry out the Supreme Court’s
order to allow Diomi to be placed under house arrest, ensure that he has
appropriate medical care while in custody, and is quickly brought to
trial or the charges dropped.
Imprisonment of 12 Bandundu Association Members
In Congo’s western province of Bandundu, 12 members of the Association for the Defense of the Interests of Bandundu City (Association pour la défense des intérêts de la Ville de Bandundu, ADIVB)
were arrested and convicted for planning to hold a demonstration, in
violation of their right to peaceful assembly. As required under
Congolese law, they had informed Bandundu’s interim mayor on March 22
that they were planning a demonstration on March 27 to protest alleged
bad management by Bandundu’s governor.
Three members were arrested on March 25, before the march took place.
Nine others who came to their aid were also arrested and detained,
accused of trying to help their colleagues escape. On April 12, the 12
were each sentenced to 20 years in prison for “tribalism,” attempted
escape, and criminal conspiracy.
Human Rights Watch interviewed the 12 in prison in Bandundu in June.
All of them, including a 70-year-old man, said they had been beaten by
policemen. One had lost a tooth from the beatings, and another needed
seven stitches on his head after police beat him with a club.
A member of the group told Human Rights Watch that they believed the
charges were brought because they had criticized the governor. The group
had conducted audits of provincial government offices at the governor’s
request, he said. “But when we looked into his own management and asked
for explanations, the governor decided to sanction us.”
On May 3, 227 Congolese nongovernmental organizations issued a news
release condemning the verdict, saying it “followed a speedy trial,
characterized by charges of corruption, influence peddling, and
manipulation of justice in order to obtain a guilty verdict, at any
Bandundu’s court of appeals reduced the sentences to between 5 and 12
months. The appellate court then suspended the chief judge of Bandundu’s
high court, which had issued the trial verdict, for failing to justify
On August 24, three ADIVB members were released after serving their
five-month sentences. During a hearing at the Supreme Court on August
26, the prosecutor said he was favorable to the nine other ADIVB
members’ request for provisional release. They are now awaiting the
decision of the Supreme Court judges.