DRC : A prominent human rights defender unjustly detained and prosecuted

Paris-Geneva, March 6, 2015 – The trial against human rights defender, Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba, National Chairman of the NGO “Synergie Congo culture et développement” and Coordinator of the platform Civil Society of Congo, opened on March 4, without any prior notice to the defendant who is facing a heavy prison sentence. The Observatory fears that the defender is being prosecuted because of his opposition to the electoral reform, as well as for documenting violence that erupted during the 19-20 January protests, and urges the judicial authorities to ensure the respect of his right to a fair trial, in conformity with international human rights standards.

On March 4, 2015, the criminal proceedings against Mr. Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba who is facing charges of “publication of false information”, “incitement to disobey the law and rebellion”, “incitement to racial hatred”, “destruction” and “robbery” and in which the State of DRC along with 22 Chinese citizens are acting as civil parties, opened before the Kinshasa/Matete court. The defendant, who was not notified of the hearing within the time-frame prescribed under, refused to appear voluntarily. Therefore, the Court declared itself un-seized of the matter and postponed the opening of the trial to March 18, 2015 to conform to legal requirements.

As of January 12, 2015, Mr. Ngoyi Mutamba, had actively took part in several peaceful actions denouncing an electoral reform. On January 21, 2015, after visiting injured protesters, Mr. Ngoyi Mutamba was kidnapped by armed elements of the national guard in Kinshasa and held incommunicado for approximately twenty days by the national intelligence agency (ANR).

After prohibiting a march organised to alert public attention on the kidnapping and on the numerous abuses targeting human rights defenders in the country, on February 5, 2015, the Government spokesperson finally announced the charges for which he will be brought to the public prosecutor’s office and further prosecuted.

“Considering the fallacious charges pending against Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba, which are clearly linked to the current political situation in the DRC, we must remain vigilant to ensure that he his right to a fair trial before an impartial court is respected” , declared Karim Lahidji, FIDH president.

“It is the responsibility of the Congolese authorities to guarantee that the rights of Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba are respected” , added Gerald Staberock, OMCT secretary general.

Context

On January 5, 2015, the Government introduced a draft bill to amend the electoral law. This bill provided that the list of electors “should be updated having regard to the evolution of demographic data and the identification of the population”, therefore making population census a prerequisite to the organization of any legislative and presidential elections. In a racked by violence unstable country with a 2,5 million square meter territory and more than 77 million inhabitants, such a census seems difficult to achieve in less than 4 years, resulting in the inevitable postponement of a presidential election to which Joseph Kabila, in office since 2001, cannot in theory, run for.

Since the beginning of the review of the Bill by the Lower Chamber, the opposition and the civil society had expressed their concerns and disagreement. Opposition parties first called for protect action and then the boycott of the parliamentary sessions. With the Bill adopted on the quiet by the National Assembly on January 17, the opposition denounced a “constitutional coup d’Etat” and called for a mass protest to start on 19 January 2015 as the Upper Chamber had scheduled its review. As of result of this call, Congolese authorities cut off communications and SMS services.

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