Amnesty International has hailed the release of four pro-democracy activists who were held for over a year in a Democratic Republic of Congo prison, but cautioned that they remain at risk of re-arrest unless the charges are dropped.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, Sarah Jackson, warned on Tuesday while celebrating their release.
“The charges against them were politically motivated and must be dropped to ensure that their ordeal is over once and for all,” she said.
The activists released this week include Fred Bauma, Yves Makwambala, Christopher Ngoyi and Jean Marie Kalonji.
Fred and Yves were arrested in March 2015 along with 26 other activists in March 2015 for various offences including “plotting a conspiracy against the head of state”, which attracts a death penalty. They are members of the Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) youth pro-democracy activists group.
Christopher Ngoyi was arrested in January 2015 after monitoring human rights violations during protests against electoral delays while Jean Marie Kalonji, the founder of pro-democracy movement La Quatrième Voix, was arrested in 15 December 2015.
All the activists were held at Kinshasa’s Makala Prison awaiting trial.
“In a year marked by a draconian crackdown on dissent, activists and political leaders have found themselves behind bars at the hands of a justice system that has increasingly been used as a tool for silencing dissent as the deadline for holding elections looms,“Sarah Jackson said.
“While their release is great news, the authorities must now release all other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including Bienvenu Matumo, Marc Kapitene and Victor Tesongo,” she added.
Dozens others are still behind bars and the government has promised to release them as part of a roadmap for peace signed with opposition parties.
The Congolese minister for justice and human rights announced on August 19 plans to release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.