Human rights defenders, Elisée Lwatumba Kasonia and Eric Muhindo Muvumbu were arrested on April 19, 2021 by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in the town of Butembo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province, while calling for a general strike to protest against increased deadly armed attacks in the north eastern territory of Beni. They spent a night in a cell at the ANR before being transferred to a cell at the Prosecutor’s office. On April 24, 2021 they were transferred to the Butembo Central Prison where they are currently being held. The two members of the youth movement, Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) are accused of “troubling public order” and “inciting for fiscal disobedience.” They must be immediately and unconditionally released.
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I am writing this letter to urge you and your government to release human rights defenders, Elisée Lwatumba Kasonia
(22) and Eric Muhindo Muvumbu
(32) who are being held in arbitrary detention. The two men are members of the youth movement, Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA). On April 19, 2021 they were arrested in the town of Butembo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu province, by officers believed to be members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), while they were walking on the street with megaphones calling for a general strike in Butembo to protest against increased security incidents and killings of civilians in the neighbouring territory of Beni, in north eastern DRC.
The call to strike was an appeal from LUCHA and other civil society organizations in the region to peacefully protest against the government failure to protect the civilians of Beni from deadly armed groups attacks.
On April 19, 2021 they spent a night in a cell at the ANR headquarters in Butembo before being transferred to a cell at the Prosecutor’s office. On April 24, 2021 they were transferred to the Butembo Central Prison where they remain held. The two human rights defenders have been accused of “troubling public order” and “inciting for fiscal disobedience”. They have yet to be presented before a judge.
Elisée Lwatumba Kasonia and Eric Muhindo Muvumbu’s peaceful action to call for general strike to express their views on the failure by the government to guarantee effective security for the population in the Beni territory is not a crime. Amnesty International is deeply concerned that their arrest and detention is solely linked to the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Furthermore, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, I urge you to comply with Resolution 466 – 2020 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which calls states to release human rights defenders as part of wider measures to reduce overcrowding in prisons and other places of detention.
I therefore call upon you to do anything in your power to ensure that Elisée Lwatumba Kasonia and Eric Muhindo Muvumbu are immediately and unconditionally released, as they are being detained solely in connection to their peaceful human rights activism. Pending their release, they must have regular and unfettered access to their lawyer and families and be protected from torture and other ill-treatment.