DR Congo: President Brutally Represses Opposition

For Immediate Release

DR Congo: President Brutally Represses Opposition

Two Years Since Elections, 500 Dead, 1,000 Detained, and Many Tortured

KINSHASA - Congolese state security forces have killed an estimated 500 people
and detained about 1,000 more, many of whom have been tortured, in the
two years since elections that were meant to bring democracy, Human
Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The brutal repression against perceived opponents began during the 2006
elections that carried President Joseph Kabila to power, and has
continued to the present.

The 96-page report, "‘We Will Crush You': The Restriction of
Political Space in the Democratic Republic of Congo," documents the
Kabila government's use of violence and intimidation to eliminate
political opponents. Human Rights Watch found that Kabila himself set
the tone and direction by giving orders to "crush" or "neutralize" the
"enemies of democracy," implying it was acceptable to use unlawful
force against them.

"While everyone focuses on the violence in eastern Congo, government
abuses against political opponents attract little attention," said
Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in the Africa Division of
Human Rights Watch. "Efforts to build a democratic Congo are being
stifled not just by rebellion but also by the Kabila government's
repression."

On the second anniversary of Kabila's November 28, 2006 election
victory, the Congo remains impoverished and in conflict. Those in
western Congo who might challenge government policies face brutal
repression, while in the east the armed conflict with renegade general
Laurent Nkunda's forces has resulted in horrific atrocities by all
sides.

The report is based on months of extensive field research including
interviews with more than 250 victims, witnesses, and officials. Human
Rights Watch documented how Kabila's subordinates worked through
several state security forces - including the paramilitary Republican
Guards, a "secret commission," the special Simba battalion of the
police, and the intelligence services - to crack down on perceived
opponents in the capital Kinshasa and in Bas Congo province.

Following the 2006 elections, which were largely financed by
international donors, foreign governments focused on winning favor with
Kabila's new government and kept silent about human rights abuses and
the government's increasingly repressive rule. United Nations reports
documenting government involvement in politically motivated crimes were
deliberately buried or published too late to have any significant
impact on events, Human Rights Watch found.

The report says that state agents particularly targeted persons from
Equateur province and others thought to support the defeated
presidential candidate, Jean-Pierre Bemba, as well as adherents of
Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK), a political-religious group based in Bas Congo
that promotes greater provincial autonomy and had considerable support
in legislative elections.

At least 500 perceived opponents of the government were deliberately
killed or summarily executed. In some of the most violent episodes,
state agents tried to cover up the crimes by dumping bodies in the
Congo River or by secretly burying them in mass graves. Government
officials blocked efforts to investigate by UN human rights staff,
Congolese and international human rights monitors, and family members
of victims.

The detentions came in waves of arrests during the past two years.
Detainees and former detainees described torture, including beatings,
whippings, mock executions, and the use of electric batons on their
genitals and other parts of their bodies. Some were kept chained for
days or weeks and many were forced to sign confessions saying they had
been involved in coup plots against Kabila.

In mid-October 2008, state agents arbitrarily arrested at least 20
people in Kinshasa, the majority from Equateur province, including a
woman and her 3-month-old baby. Human Rights Watch estimated that at
least 200 people detained in politically related cases continue to be
held without trial in prisons in Bas Congo and Kinshasa.

Armed groups associated with Bemba and BDK adherents also were
responsible for killing state agents and ordinary people, including in
incidents in Bas Congo in February 2007 and in Kinshasa in March 2007.
In these cases, the police and army had a duty to restore order, but
often did so with excessive force.

Congolese officials have refused to acknowledge abuses committed by
state agents despite inquiries by the National Assembly, the media, and
other citizens or groups. The officials claimed that the victims were
plotting coup attempts or otherwise threatening state authority, but
they provided no convincing evidence of such charges and brought only a
handful of cases to court.

Journalists who were linked to the political opposition or who
protested abuses were threatened, arbitrarily arrested, and in some
cases tortured by government agents. The government closed down radio
stations and television networks that were linked to the opposition or
broadcast their views. Several of these stations were later permitted
to operate again.

The National Assembly has tried to scrutinize the conduct of the
government. Opposition members sometimes boycotted sessions in protest
of the abuses, with some limited impact. However, these efforts have
not been enough to stop the killings or the wide-scale arbitrary
arrests.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to establish a
high-level task force under the authority of the Ministry of Justice
with input from human rights experts to document the abuses by state
agents and release those held illegally. It also called on Congo's
National Assembly to conduct a public inquiry into the abuses by state
security agents and to prosecute those responsible.

"The Congolese people deserve a government which will uphold their
democratic rights, not one that represses opponents," said Van
Woudenberg. "An important first step would be to bring to justice those
officials responsible for killings and torture."

Selected accounts from the report:

"As they beat me with sticks and whips, the soldiers repeatedly
shouted, ‘We will crush you! We will crush you!' Then they threatened
to kill me and others who opposed Kabila."

- A political party activist detained and tortured in Kinshasa in March 2007 by President Kabila's Republican Guards.

"At 3 in the morning seven Republican Guards came into the prison.
They took 10 of the prisoners, tied their hands, blindfolded them, and
taped pieces of cardboard over their mouths so they couldn't scream.
The captain who did this said he had received orders. He said he would
drink the blood of Equateurians that night. They took them away.... I
knew one of the guards and asked what had happened. He said the others
had been taken to the [Congo] river near Kinsuka and killed."

- A Congolese army officer from the Ngwaka ethnic group, arrested by
the Republican Guard on March 23, 2007 and detained at Camp Tshatshi.

"They started to hit me. They stripped off my clothes. They took
four sets of handcuffs and tied my hands behind me and then to my feet.
I was thrown on the ground in this position... They gave me electric
shocks all over my body. They put the electric baton in my anus and on
my genitals.... I cried so much that I could hardly see any more. I
shouted I would sign whatever they wanted me to."

- A former detainee held at Kin-Mazière prison on the orders of the "secret commission."

"Kabila took a decision to beat-up on Bemba and to teach him a lesson."

- A member of Kabila's inner circle just before violence in Kinshasa
in August 2006 following the inconclusive first election round.

"We all saw this coming, but again we did not do enough to avert the crisis."

- A European military advisor with close links to the Congolese army
about the March 2007 violence in Kinshasa that left hundreds dead.

"You JED who do you think you are? If you don't agree with the
regime, go into exile and wait until your champion takes power. If you
don't leave we'll help to shut you up for good. We won't miss. Too much
is too much. You have been warned."

- A threat received by the local organization Journalists in Danger
(JED) in June 2007 after they raised concerns about repression against
members of the media.

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