DRC: Threats and intimidation against Dismas Kitenge

COD 001 / 0122 / OBS 003
Threats / Insults / Intimidation
Democratic Republic of Congo
January 14, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), asks you to take action concerning the following situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed of threats, intimidation, insults and acts of denigration against Mr Dismas Kitenge, President of Groupe Lotus. [1]

On January 10, 2022, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., Dismas Kitenge received two calls from unidentified numbers and one call from an identifiable number, from unknown persons claiming to be generals of the Congolese army. The callers expressed disappointment with Mr Kitenge’s statements about the murder of a Republican Guard soldier on the night of December 31, 2021 to January 1, 2022 in Kisangani, Tshopo province. [2] These individuals accused Mr Kitenge of being a thief, of advocating for the release of Dr Éric Jakwonga Upoki, who was imprisoned in connection with the investigation into the soldier’s death, [3] and assured him that he would be held responsible in the event of an uprising by the military because he had played down the murder of the Republican Guard soldier. These unidentified individuals also labeled Dismas Kitenge an enemy of the army and accused him of working for foreigners. They told him that they knew where he and his entire family lived and that he would not escape.

On January 10 and 11, 2022, the military prosecutor in charge of Dr Upoki’s case and the senior military prosecutor of Tshopo province received delegations from the national union of doctors (Synamed)—the association of doctors and provincial deputies—to gather information and testimony and discuss the case and the progress of the investigation procedure. During the discussions, the military judicial authorities cited Mr Kitenge as one of those responsible for spreading false information about the soldier’s murder and the disastrous consequences that could arise, including clashes between the military and civilians in the event of a demonstration in the city of Kisangani demanding the release of Dr Upoki.

On January 11, 2022, the Military Advocate General investigating the case of Dr Upoki and the senior military prosecutor of Tshopo province also received a delegation from Groupe Lotus to discuss the case and the threats received by Mr Kitenge. During the discussions, the senior military prosecutor of Tshopo province in turn made direct insults and threats against Mr Kitenge and disparaged him in front of his colleagues, describing him as a "liar, a loser, a ridiculous person, an agitator, a profiteer, a manipulator" and accusing him of despising Congolese justice and of being responsible for calls to discredit it. He also warned Mr Kitenge that he should be prepared to pay the price for any disorder caused by his stance. The Chief Prosecutor also promised to confront Groupe Lotus at the trial of Dr Upoki and challenged the organisation’s members to secure his release. [4] Following this hearing, Groupe Lotus sent an open letter to the Chief Prosecutor denouncing the threats and insults suffered by Dismas Kitenge, considering these acts as actions aimed at restricting the freedom of expression and action of human rights defenders in the DRC, and calling on the Congolese justice system to engage in dialogue and collaboration for the respect of human rights and the establishment of a state governed by the rule of law in the DRC and in Tshopo province.

This series of malicious acts follows messages published by Mr Kitenge on social networks on January 8 and 11, 2022 denouncing the arrest by the military justice system on January 7, 2022 of Dr Upoki, the intimidation by the military in the vicinity of the university clinics in Kisangani following the murder of the Republican Guard soldier, and the arrest of Jean de Dieu Bosunga Nyama, Director a. i of the Régie des Voies Aériennes de Kisangani by the Agence Nationale des Renseignements, in connection with another case. [5] In these messages, Dismas Kitenge also called for social mobilisation and the organisation of peaceful protest actions for the release of the two men and warned of the danger of the non-application of the rules of the rule of law in Tshopo province.

The Observatory notes that this is not the first time that Dismas Kitenge has been subjected to threats and intimidation. In September 2020, Mr Kitenge and his family were victims of death threats and insults via anonymous calls because of Mr Kitenge’s stance against the DRC’s authorities and public figures. Following these threats, Mr Kitenge filed a complaint against unknown persons with the Public Prosecutor of the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Kisangani, requesting the identification and prosecution of the perpetrator of the threats as well as protection measures for him and his family. In October 2020, Mr Kitenge and his family were granted temporary relocation measures. However, at the time of publication of this urgent appeal, no action had been taken on the complaint filed by Mr Kitenge.

The Observatory expresses deep concern regarding the new threats, insults, and acts of intimidation against Dismas Kitenge, which seem to be aimed at dissuading him from carrying out his legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory calls on the Congolese authorities to put an end to these threats and acts of intimidation; to conduct an independent, rigorous, impartial, and transparent investigation in order to identify those responsible; and to bring them before an independent, competent, and impartial tribunal. The Observatory also calls on the Congolese authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of Mr Kitenge.

Actions requested:

The Observatory requests that you write to the Congolese authorities asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical safety and psychological well-being of Dismas Kitenge and all other human rights defenders in the DRC;

ii. Conduct an independent, rigorous, impartial and transparent investigation into the threats and intimidation against Dismas Kitenge to identify those responsible and bring them before an independent, competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments, and to apply the criminal, civil and/or administrative sanctions provided for by law.

Addresses:

- H.E. Mr Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Republic, Email: cabinet@presidentrdc.cd;
- Mr Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, Prime Minister, E-mail: cabinet@primature.cd;
- Mme Rose Mutombo Kiese, Minister of Justice, E-mail: minjustdh@gmail.com;
- Mr Fabrice Puela, Minister of Human Rights, Email: min-droitshumains@yahoo.fr;
- Mr Victor Mumba Mukomo, Attorney General at the Court of Cassation; E-mail: pgr_rdc@yahoo.fr, pgr_rdcongo15@yahoo.com;
- Mr Christian Ndongala Nkuku, Ambassador, Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Brussels, Belgium, E-mail: secretariat@ambardc.eu.

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Democratic Republic of Congo in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, January 14, 2022

Please inform the Observatory of any action taken by indicating the code of this appeal.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was founded in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the FIDH. The programme’s mission is to intervene to prevent or solve concrete situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the Mechanism of European Union for Human Rights Defenders implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, send an email or call the emergency hotline:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel. OMCT: +41 22 809 49 39
• Tel. FIDH: +33 1 43 55 25 18

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