The release yesterday of six youth activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo by way of presidential pardons will be seen as little more than an exercise in window dressing unless all prisoners of conscience and others detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights are freed, said Amnesty International.
Rebecca Kavugho, Serge Sivyavugha, Justin Kambale Mutsongo, Melka Kamundu, John Anipenda and Ghislain Muhiwa were released from Munzenze Prison with less than a month left to serve on their six-month sentence imposed for charges of “attempting to incite disobedience.”
“While it is good news that the six are finally free to reunite with their families, their release at the tail-end of an unjust prison term resulting from trumped up charges is nothing to celebrate. They should never have been jailed in the first place,” said Christian Rumu, Amnesty International’s Great Lakes Campaigner.
“For the presidential pardon to be seen as a sign of goodwill, the DRC authorities must go a step further and release all other activists arbitrarily arrested and detained for speaking out against election delays.”
The six, who are part of the Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) youth movement, were arrested on 16 February while preparing materials in support of a nationwide strike called by the opposition to protest against delays in electoral preparations, which activists say are aimed at unconstitutionally prolonging President Joseph Kabila’s stay in power after his second term ends.
The six had to be forcefully removed from prison after they rejected the presidential pardons in solidarity with others unjustly detained.
In line with the Constitution, the elections are supposed to take place in November, but no election date has been set so far. President Kabila is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term.
Dozens of youth activists have been arrested and detained over the last 16 months and many of them continue to languish in jail. They include Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala, arrested on 15 March 2015 in Goma, and Bienvenu Matumo, Marc Heritier Kambale and Victor Tesongo, arrested on 15 and 16 February in Kinshasa.