DRC: Peaceful activists jailed for ‘defamation’
On 3 May 2021, President Félix Tshisekedi announced that the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri were being placed under a special emergency regime dubbed a ‘State of Siege’. The measure, according to his order, was meant to bring peace and stability to the two provinces after decades of armed conflicts by eradicating armed groups in the region.
Under the State of Siege, all civilian powers have been transferred to the military and police which replaced the civilian provincial government, chief of towns, city council and mayors. In the same context, all cases were transferred from civilian to military courts. Later, in September 2021, the Minister of Justice clarified that only criminal cases were to be handled by the military justice system. On 6 May 2021, while welcoming the government’s stated intent to protect civilians in eastern DRC, Amnesty International stressed its opposition to the transfer of the criminal jurisdiction to the military court system as they violate the DRC’s obligation to guarantee independence and impartiality under international human rights law. Allowing the prosecution of civilians before military tribunals violates the right to a fair trial and due process guarantees. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Resolution on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Aid in Africa noted that “[t]he purpose of Military Courts is to determining offenses of a pure military nature committed by pure military personnel."
Amnesty International has also observed an increasingly restrictive environment for the right to freedom of expression under the State of Siege. Journalists, Member of Parliament at the local and national levels and human rights activists have been attacked for their criticism of the State of Siege as the solution to continued insecurity.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights must be immediately released. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has called on all states parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in its resolution 466 on prisons and conditions of detention in Africa, to release different groups of detainees amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, including human rights defenders, “in order to reduce overcrowding in prisons and curb the spread of the Coronavirus”.