DRC: Bishops condemn police crackdown on opponents

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The Congolese episcopate on Monday condemned a police crackdown in Kinshasa on Saturday on opposition supporters who were demonstrating against the high cost of living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there has been much outrage since.

The police blamed the demonstrators for not respecting the itinerary established by the governor of the city of Kinshasa Gentiny Ngobila. According to the police, the demonstration was supposed to take place in the north of the capital, while the demonstrators gathered in a deprived neighbourhood in the centre-west.

The confrontation between the police and the demonstrators quickly degenerated. People were beaten, manhandled, robbed and violently arrested. Among them were minors.

The National Episcopal Conference of Congo (Cenco) denounced in a press release this "ignoble and savage repression that the forces of order and their militia accomplices inflicted on the demonstrators, including the minors found on their way".

The Cenco "condemns with the utmost energy all these monstrosities", wrote its General Secretary, Bishop Donatien Nshole, who also called on the authorities to conduct serious investigations into these violations.

The Bishops' Conference called on "the Congolese people not to give in to fear in the face of barbarity organised to intimidate them. If nothing is done to guarantee their fundamental rights, they will soon have to exercise their power to sanction all the incompetents," the text concludes.

Many other voices have been raised to condemn these acts a few months before the presidential elections. The Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, said he was "shocked by police violence, including on defenceless children".

This demonstration against the high cost of living and for a credible electoral process was organised at the call of four declared candidates for the next presidential elections and opponents of President Felix Tshisekedi.

"A state that denies its citizens their fundamental freedoms on the eve of general elections risks a dictatorial drift," said Dr Mukwege.

Congolese Human Rights Minister Albert-Fabrice Puela, who has demanded an investigation, also condemned "acts of repression" and "brutality" against the demonstrators.

At a press briefing on Saturday, the organisers said that at least two injured protesters were "between life and death". They announced a new demonstration on Thursday in front of the National Electoral Commission in Kinshasa.

The single-round presidential election is scheduled for 20 December and Felix Tshisekedi, who has been in power since 2019, is up for re-election.

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