Four days before the referendum on the Constitution, repression comes crashing down on opponents

21/10/2015
Press release
en fr

(Brazzaville, Paris) FIDH, OCDH and the members of the #MyVoteMustCount coalition condemn the brutal repression of the demonstrations that have been taking place since yesterday, 20 October 2015, and are continuing today, 21 October, against the referendum on the constitution due to be held on Sunday. The live bullets fired by the forces of order against the peaceful demonstrators have so far resulted in five deaths, including three civilians in Brazzaville, and at least two in Pointe Noire. With more demonstrations scheduled to take place over the next few days, our organisations are calling on all actors involved to exercise restraint and are urging the national authorities to guarantee the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful demonstration and to ensure that the forces of order make no use of excessive and disproportionate force.

FIDH, OCDH and the members of the #MyVoteMustCount coalition condemn the brutal repression of the demonstrations that have been taking place since yesterday, 20 October 2015, and are continuing today, 21 October, against the referendum on the constitution due to be held on Sunday. The live bullets fired by the forces of order against the peaceful demonstrators have so far resulted in five deaths, including three civilians in Brazzaville, and at least two in Pointe Noire. With more demonstrations scheduled to take place over the next few days, our organisations are calling on all actors involved to exercise restraint and are urging the national authorities to guarantee the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful demonstration and to ensure that the forces of order make no use of excessive and disproportionate force.

"The Congolese authorities have created a climate of increased fear and repression by carrying out mass arrests and having recourse to violence in order to prevent the Congolese people from expressing themselves, demonstrating freely and peacefully and being informed. Violent repression of peaceful demonstrations and suspension of the means of communication and information are the practices of an authoritarian régime. The authorities must put an immediate end to the use of lethal weapons to repress demonstrations, reestablish systems of information and communication and cancel the referendum on the constitution, which is, obviously, anticonstitutional and not consensual."
FIDH, OCDH, the organisations of the MyVoteMustCount coalition

As early as 9 am on 20 October, demonstrators were out on the streets of the dissenting quarters of Bacongo and Makélékélé, in the south of the capital, Brazzaville, demonstrating peacefully against the referendum on the constitution, which is due to be held on Sunday 25 October. Police officers and gendarmes, massively deployed to lock down those areas, prevented demonstrators from converging on their meeting place in the Square de Gaulle, in front of the Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza School. The result was clashes between demonstrators and police officers and gendarmes. The demonstrators threw stones and the forces of order used tear-gas and live bullets. Between 10 am and 3 pm yesterday, a helicopter flew over those southern quarters and dropped tear-gas on the demonstrators.

As far as our organisations can ascertain, the result was three dead in Bacongo and around ten wounded across the southern quarters. Demonstrators stated that among the security forces were youths known to be members of the former Ninja militia. In Mfilou, the 7th arrondissement of Brazzaville, members of the Para-Commando Battalion (Groupement para commando – GTC)), an élite corps of the Congolese army, entered homes on Tuesday and arrested four young demonstrators. Other arrests took place in the quarters of Bacongo and Makélékélé.

Yesterday, the demonstrators erected barricades to prevent the forces of order from continuing to deploy in those quarters, burned tyres and set fire to three police stations in the capital, enabling an unknown number of prisoners to escape. The clashes lasted until approximately 3.30 pm. At the same time a peaceful march organized by the supporters of the referendum took place with no clashes in the quarter of Moungali and in the city centre.

In Pointe Noire, the army provided reinforcements for the police to prevent an anti-referendum demonstration. There were clashes during which the security forces fired live bullets and used tear-gas. According to information gathered by our organisations, at least two civilians were killed by the security forces and several other were wounded. Barricades were erected and tyres burned.

The police and the army have been deployed since Tuesday morning throughout Dolisie, the third-largest city in the country, and also dispersed a demonstration on Tuesday without incident. A meeting of opposition representatives was also due to take place in Dolisie on Tuesday, but the forces of order did not authorize it. In the town of Madingou, in the south of the country, the home of Placide Moudoudou, who was largely responsible for drawing up the new draft Constitution, was ransacked on Tuesday 20 October. Yesterday, the inhabitants of Madingou also attacked some members of the Congolese Workers’ Party (PCT – the ruling party), who fled.

Today, Wednesday 21 October, demonstrations have begun again in Brazzaville and tear-gas and live bullets have once again been used to break up gatherings. Six opposition leaders – Clément Mierassa (Chairman of the Congolese Social-Democrat Party – PSDC), Emmanuel Boungouandza (Senator and member of the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy – UPADS), Guy Romain Akifoussia (UDR-Mwinda), Pastere Kitemoso and Marion Mabzimba (members of the Frocad platform) and Professor Henri Doukoulou (of the University of Brazzaville) – were arrested by the police at around 2 pm in the quarter of Diata in Brazzaville, and taken to the central police station. They were preparing to take part in a press conference at the UPADS office. They were released at about 6 pm. Twenty young people were also arrested at the home of Emmanuel Boungouandza, in Diata. They are still in detention.

In addition, the Internet and the SMS network have been cut off throughout the Republic of the Congo since Monday. The national authorities have also prevented Radio France International (RFI) from broadcasting since Monday.

Calls to continue protests until the end of the week have been launched by civil society and the opposition parties, in the main towns of the country. Our organisations are calling on the Congolese authorities to comply with their national and international commitments and to respect the right of Congolese citizens to demonstrate peacefully.

"The extent of the contestation must urge the Congolese authorities to abandon their plans to change the Constitution, which violates the democratic rules in force in the Republic of the Congo and the country’s international obligations. The African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF) and the United Nations must take the measures provided for in their texts against those who seek to keep themselves in power in contempt of all the rules in force and against those responsible for current human-rights violations in order that free and credible elections can be held in a climate of peace."
FIDH, OCDH, the organisations of the MyVoteMustCount coalition

Background


On 22 September, Denis Sassou Nguesso said he wanted to hold a referendum to decide on a ’change’ in the Constitution that has been in force in the Republic of the Congo since 2002 in order to allow him to seek a third term as president. The opponents of the referendum, who look on it as an attempt to overthrow the constitution, had given Denis Sassou Nguesso until Monday 19 October to abandon his plans for a referendum, declaring that as from that date they would cease to recognise the legitimacy of the President.

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