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Democratic Republic of Congo: New report shows escalating abuse of human rights defenders

Amnesty International today (17 Feb) called on the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to protect human rights defenders, who continue to be arbitrarily detained by the county’s security agencies and subjected to death threats.

In its new report "Human Rights Defenders under attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo", Amnesty documents the persecution faced by eight prominent human rights defenders, harassment which the organisation fears will intensify in the build-up to the 2011 presidential and national elections.

Amnesty International’s DRC Researcher Andrew Philip said:

“The government of the DRC must uphold the right to freedom of expression and ensure that Congolese rights defenders are protected from threats, arbitrary arrests and assault. Many are detained simply because they speak out on behalf of others.

“These defenders play a crucial role in drawing attention to human rights abuses but intensifying harassment makes it increasingly difficult for them to carry out this important work.”

Congolese human rights defenders have told Amnesty that harassment and arrests directed towards them have increased sharply in 2009.

For example the head of the Katagana branch of DRC human rights organisation – Association Africaine de Defense des Droits de l’Homme’ (ASADHO) –  called Golden Misabiko, was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in July 2009 after ASADHO published a report alleging that government security officials were involved in illegal mining of highly radioactive uranium and other minerals from the Shinkolobwe mine, in Katanga province.  

After being detained for almost a month, Mr Misabiko was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison with eight months' suspended after being found guilty of “publication of false information”.  

Robert Ilunga, a community advocate and head of another human rights organisation in Kinshasa, was arrested by the ANR and held incommunicado for nine days in September 2009 after the NGO publicly denounced harsh working conditions endured by workers at a gravel-making company.

The ANR in particular, frequently arrests, detains and intimidates human rights workers in the DRC. Amnesty International receives regular reports of torture and other ill-treatment taking place in ANR detention facilities.

Leaders of four human rights organisations based in the south-eastern city of Lubumbashi in Katanga province have received anonymous and increasingly sinister SMS messages since mid-September, when they led a local campaign in support of the then detained Golden Misabiko.  

One rights defender told Amnesty:

“I don’t know how much longer I can bear the stress and mental suffering caused by these threats, but every day I resist the temptation to just return to normal life with my family, because I refuse to be intimidated into stopping my work.”

One of the four human rights leaders who campaigned for the release of Mr Misabiko, Grégoire Mulamba, was abducted on 18 October 2009 on his way home from work. The taxi that was supposed to take him home suddenly diverted from the usual route and as Grégoire Mulamba challenged the driver, one of the passengers pushed a gun into his ribs and blindfolded him. Stopping after 20 minutes, Grégoire Mulamba feared he would be killed but was instead dumped in a cemetery on the outskirts of Lubumbashi.

UN observers in the country have echoed the reports that attacks on human rights defenders have increased.

A number of countries have expressed concern over the situation of human rights defenders in the DRC and made recommendations during the UN's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the DRC that took place in Geneva in December.  

The DRC has since indicated that it supports the UPR recommendations to “take further measures to protect the rights of human rights defenders…”; to “ensure that crimes and violations against human rights defenders and journalists are effectively investigated and prosecuted”, and to “adopt an effective legal framework for the protection of human rights activists in line with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders”.

Amnesty International urges the government to make these changes in law and practice promptly.

Read the full report: 'Human rights defenders under attack' (PDF)

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