Release Human Rights Defender Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba
Published: 3 Mar 2015
By: Djibril Balde
The International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) was concerned to learn of the arrest, on the 21 January 2014, of Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba by part of the presidential guard while with fellow activists in an outdoor bar in Kinshasa.
Mr. Ngoyi, a well-known and well respected human rights defender and the president of the NGO Synergie Congo Culture et Développement, was actively involved in the protests against the changes to the electoral law in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on beginning on 12 January 2015. On the day of his arrest, Mr. Ngoyi was one of a delegation of human rights defenders that had visited Kinshasa’s general hospital in order to visit the protesters who had been injured during the recent protests.
On 2 February, more than 600 civil society organisations, coordinated by the Federation Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH), wrote an open letter to President Kabila asking for Mr Ngoyi’s release, asserting that he was arrested for having expressed his political opinions vis-à-vis the proposed change in the electoral law.
A government spokesperson declared in a press conference on 5 February that Mr Ngoyi would be prosecuted for a series of offences, including arson, acts of looting and incitement. However, it was not until 10 February that Mr Ngoyi’s whereabouts were known when he was “transfer[ed] to the office of the prosecutor general of the republic.” Prior to this, according to Human Rights Watch, the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) stated they had him in custody, but he did not have access to his family or his lawyers.
Human rights defenders have often been subject to arrest, intimidation, torture, killings and even disappearances in the DRC. Floribert Chebeya, the former director of the Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless) and his driver were killed in 2010 after a meeting with the former chief of the Congolese national police, General John Numbi.
Junior Safari Runiga of l’Action Congolaise pour le Respect de Droits Humains (ACIDH) declared that “this regime is in the process of putting in place a system of repression against those who are opposing the changing of the constitution.” He believes Mr Ngoyi’s arrest is a result of the judicial system being instrumentalised by the executive for political reasons.
IRRI is extremely concerned about this arrest and other actions taken by the government in response to the protests in Kinshasa. It should be reiterated that the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed under the constitution and reinforced by a number of treaties and conventions signed by the DRC. National authorities should immediately cease the harassment of human rights defenders, particularly those that are engaged in the fight for the respect of the constitution and respect the constitution and the election law.
IRRI asks the Congolese government to:
– Immediately release Mr. Ngoyi, or ensure he is given access to his lawyers and his family. If he is not released, then he should be charged with an internationally offence and provided with all procedural protections necessary to ensure that he is able to mount a vigorous defense.
– Respect the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
– Take all necessary measures to put in place an independent commission of inquiry to clarify the circumstances of human rights violations that took place during the protests and pursue accountability for the perpetrators.
– Scrupulously maintain the electoral calendar.
– Assure the physical security of those human rights defenders who are fighting for the respect of the Congolese constitution.
IRRI also asks the African and international community and all human rights institutions to intervene with the Congolese authorities on Mr Ngoyi’s case to ensure that his rights are respected.