End Persecution of Human Rights Defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Urges Amnesty International

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End Persecution of Human Rights Defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Urges Amnesty International

WASHINGTON - Amnesty International today
called on the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to protect
human rights defenders, who continue to be arbitrarily detained by security
agencies and subjected to an alarming number of death threats.

In its briefing Human Rights Defenders under attack in the Democratic
Republic of Congo
, Amnesty International documents the persecution
faced by eight prominent human rights defenders in the DRC, harassment
the organization fears will intensify in the build-up to 2011 presidential
and national elections. Congolese human rights defenders have told Amnesty
International that harassment and arrests directed toward them have increased
sharply throughout 2009, reports echoed by U.N. observers in the country.

"The government of the DRC must uphold the right to freedom of expression
and ensure that Congolese human rights defenders are protected from threats,
arbitrary arrests and assault," said Andrew Philip, Amnesty International's
DRC researcher. "Many human rights defenders are detained simply because
they speak out on behalf of others."

Golden Misabiko, head of the Katanga branch of a national human rights
organization, was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in
July 2009 after his organization published a report alleging that government
security officials were involved in illegal mining of highly radioactive
uranium and other minerals from the Shinkolobwe mine, in the Katanga province.

Following detention for almost a month, Misabiko was convicted and sentenced
to one year in prison with eight months' suspended after being found guilty
of "publication of false information," a conviction that his lawyers
are seeking to overturn. Misabiko suffered severe stomach pains, persistent
vomiting and psychological trauma brought on by the appalling conditions
of detention, where he was forced to pay the guards to sleep outside on
a piece of cardboard to avoid an overcrowded and dirty cell.

Robert Ilunga, a community advocate and head of a human rights NGO in Kinshasa,
was arrested by the ANR and held incommunicado for nine days in September
2009 after the NGO issued a press release denouncing harsh working conditions
endured by workers at a gravel-making company in Kasangulu, in the province
of Bas-Congo.

The ANR, in particular, frequently arrests, detains and intimidates human
rights workers in the DRC. Amnesty International receives regular reports
of torture and other ill-treatment taking place in ANR detention facilities.

"Human rights defenders in the DRC play a crucial role in drawing attention
to human rights abuses, but intensifying harassment makes it increasingly
difficult for them to carry out this important work," said Andrew Philip.
 

Leaders of four human rights organizations based in the south-eastern city
of Lubumbashi, Katanga province, received anonymous and increasingly sinister
SMS messages since mid-September, when they led a local campaign in support
of Misabiko during his detention.

"I do not know how much longer I can bear the stress and mental suffering
caused by these threats, but every day I resist the temptation to just
return to normal life with my family, because I refuse to be intimidated
into stopping my work," a human rights defender told Amnesty International.

One of the four human rights leaders who campaigned for Misabiko, Grégoire
Mulamba, was abducted on October 18, 2009, on his way home from work. The
taxi that was supposed to take him home diverted from the usual route and
as Mulamba challenged the driver, one of the passengers pushed a gun into
his ribs and blindfolded him. Stopping after 20 minutes, Mulamba feared
he would be killed, but was instead dumped in a cemetery on the outskirts
of Lubumbashi.

The other three leaders, Timothee Mbuya, Emmanuel Umpula and Dominique
Munongo, fled Lubumbashi at the end of September 2009, fearing for their
lives. All three returned to the city in October to continue their human
rights work, despite an escalating stream of death threats.

A number of states expressed concern over the situation of human rights
defenders in the DRC and made recommendations to the DRC government during
the U.N.'s Universal Periodic Review of the DRC that took place in Geneva
in December 2009.

The DRC has since indicated that it supports the UPR recommendations to
"take further measures to protect the rights of human rights defenders...";
to "ensure that crimes and violations against human rights defenders and
journalists are effectively investigated and prosecuted" and to "adopt
an effective legal framework for the protection of human rights activists
in line with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders."

Amnesty International urges the government to make these changes in law
and practice promptly.

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