UN alarmed as Kabila elongates tenure, shuts down Internet in DR Congo

The UN has condemned move by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to block social media networks from Sunday evening, ahead of the end of President Joseph Kabila’s two-term tenure.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Al Hussein Zeid, while raising the alarm on Saturday, also condemned what he termed “a continuing ban on demonstrations by civil society and the opposition”.

According to him, the DRC Government has asked internet providers and phone operators to block social media networks from Sunday evening.

“Such disruption is generally disproportionate and risks heightening tensions and fears, as it follows recent increased restrictions on independent media and on political debate.

“I urge the authorities to reverse this order and to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and to access information, in line with the Congolese constitution,” Zeid said.

The UN rights chief regretted that to date, no one has been held accountable for the violent repression of demonstrations by the opposition.

“We are especially concerned as Monday also marks three months since 54 people died in Kinshasa, when defence and security forces used excessive force against people calling for constitutional deadlines to be respected and for President Kabila to step down at the end of his second and final mandate.”

“Intimidating and targeting opponents and civil society is not the answer.

“Silencing their views and stopping them from protesting is not the solution, and in fact is more likely to push them to resort to violence,” Zeid added.

He noted that since the beginning of December, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC documented at least 45 arrests of people trying to exercise their right to peaceful assembly.

Of these, at least 16 people were detained in Bunia, Kinshasa, the capital, and Goma in the context of the ‘Bye Bye Kabila’ campaign organised by the Filimbi and Lucha youth movements.

A further 26 people were reportedly arrested for their political links or because they belong to citizen movements.

The rights chief called on the Government, and especially its security forces, to take all necessary measures to guarantee the rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly.