A group of 12 Civil Society organizations based in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province has launched a petition asking President Joseph Kabila to pardon a jailed parliamentarian of the ruling party.
“The petition is twofold,” said Fidel Bafilemba, a leading member of the civil societies’ umbrella group. “We want forgiveness from the president, but also amnesty, because without amnesty he could get out of jail without being able to go back to his job as a member of parliament.”
Bafilemba says the arrest and detention of lawmaker Muhindo Nzangi has angered residents in the region.
“Members of the team are working to dispatch this petition to the president and to other government officials,” said Bafilemba. “His prosecution has been highly political because all this MP [Member of Parliament] was charged for is common or public knowledge because everybody talks about those same issues. But the expediency of the trial and the way it was conducted is only ridiculous.”
Nzangi, who represents the North Kivu capital, Goma, was arrested after being accused of going too far in criticizing President Joseph Kabila and of “demoralizing” army troops battling rebels in the eastern part of the country.
During a live radio show on Kivu One FM, a locally-based independent radio station, Nzangi reportedly accused the government of deliberately mismanaging the political crisis in eastern Congo.
Some analysts describe Nzangi as a firebrand who has often accused senior government officials of graft and financial malfeasance.
“He is known not to get along with the current North Kivu province governor. Although we don’t have evidence, we believe that the governor must be behind it because of the way Nzangi was jailed,” said Bafilemba. “He was feared to be the prominent opponent of the chairmanship of the governing [party] here in Goma who could replace the current governor.”
Representatives of the governor have denied the accusations.
Supporters of the jailed lawmaker say his quick trial and sentencing demonstrate that he was politically persecuted. The government has yet to respond to calls that he be pardoned.
Critics say the lawmaker was a rabble-rouser who compromised national security, an act they say is punishable by law in spite of the immunity that legislators enjoy. Bafilemba disagrees, saying the mistreatment of the lawmaker is aimed at silencing any dissent in President Kabila’s ruling coalition.
“There have been some MPs who have gone to the frontlines of the conflict and they spoke to the media and nothing happened to them. But this guy, because he criticized the government and the security system, as soon as he came to the media and spoke about what he has seen then they accused him of being a threat to security, so it doesn’t really make sense,” said Bafilemba.