Congo-Kinshasa: Detained Opposition Leader Forcibly Removed from Hospital

Congolese opposition leader Franck Diongo has told Human Rights Watch that Congolese military intelligence officials and Republican Guard soldiers removed the intravenous drip and dragged him out of his hospital bed in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, last Thursday, August 31. Diongo was then taken back to Kinshasa’s central prison.

Diongo, who appeared to be in a seriously weakened state when he spoke to Human Rights Watch, said that the Republican Guard and military intelligence soldiers showed no documents and did not speak to the doctors before forcing him to leave the hospital. In a letter sent on Sunday to a doctor who treated him in the past, quoted by Actualité.cd, Diongo writes that he “vomits blood” and suffers from “severe headaches and stomach pains,” and asks to be returned to the hospital. Denial of medical care in such cases amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment in violation of the Convention Against Torture, to which Congo is a party.

Diongo is president of the opposition party Movement of Progressive Lumumbists (MLP), part of the Rassemblement opposition coalition. He was a member of parliament at the time of his arrest.

Authorities in Kinshasa arrested Diongo on December 19, 2016, the last day of President Joseph Kabila’s second and final term in office, after Diongo and his colleagues allegedly apprehended, held, and beat three Republican Guard soldiers wearing civilian clothes. Diongo said he feared they had been sent to attack him. “Security forces staged a stunt to arrest me,” he later told us.

Diongo was detained in several locations and says he was severely beaten in the following days, including at the Tshatshi military camp and the military intelligence headquarters in Kinshasa. According to the United Nations, Diongo was “subjected to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments” while he was held by military intelligence officers.

Congo’s Supreme Court of Justice sentenced Diongo to five years in prison on December 28, 2016, following a hasty trial that he attended in a wheelchair and on an intravenous drip, which his lawyers said was due to the treatment he endured during arrest and detention. According to Diongo and his lawyers, this amounted to torture. Diongo was convicted of “aggravated arbitrary arrest” and “illegal detention.” As a member of parliament, Diongo was tried by the Supreme Court; he has no possibility to appeal the judgement.

After his conviction, Diongo was sent to Kinshasa’s central prison, still in a wheelchair. As Diongo’s health continued to deteriorate, the doctor treating him in prison submitted a report to the prison’s director, who then wrote to the minister of justice, asking for Diongo to be treated in a specialized hospital. Diongo was finally transferred to the Centre Médical de Kinshasa on August 18. As his treatment was ongoing, Diongo was then forcibly removed from this hospital last Thursday.

In June, Diongo’s lawyers submitted a request in his name to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The document, seen by Human Rights Watch, argues that Congolese authorities did not respect minimum fair trial standards and that Diongo was targeted because of his political opinions. They also made the case that Diongo’s right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal was violated given that he was convicted in the first and last instance by the Supreme Court. If the Group decides that “the arbitrary nature of the deprivation of liberty is established,” it will render an opinion to that effect and make recommendations to the Congolese government.

Diongo also faced problems attempting to register to vote, which would be a pre-condition for him to run again for parliament or another office. On June 21, when other prisoners were registering to vote, the director of the voter registration center at Kinshasa’s central prison did not allow Diongo to register, without offering any reason. While Diongo’s conviction stripped him of his status as a member of parliament, he did not lose his civil and political rights, including the right to register to vote.

“The members of my political party and myself are victims of persecution and harassment,” Diongo told Human Rights Watch. “I am a fierce opponent who refused to participate in the two dialogues with Joseph Kabila … knowing that President Kabila is not a sincere person, and that he’d only want to buy time to extend his presidency.”

Congolese authorities should urgently ensure that Diongo is given the medical care he needs, that he can register to vote like other Congolese citizens, and that the legality and necessity of his detention are reviewed, given the serious irregularities and mistreatment surrounding his case.

Across the Democratic Republic of Congo, dozens of political opposition members and activists are in detention for participating in peaceful demonstrations, speaking out against election delays, or criticizing government policies. Many have been held in secret detention without charge or access to family or lawyers. Others have been put on trial on trumped-up charges. Many suffer regular beatings and horrendous living conditions, which have received little international attention.

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