Democratic Republic of Congo freed a U.S. diplomat on Monday, a day after he was arrested at a pro-democracy meeting, but the African activists detained with him were kept in custody.
Kevin Sturr, an official with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s democracy and good governance program in Congo, was returned to the U.S. Embassy late Sunday night, Information Minister Lambert Mende said on Monday.
Security forces made around 40 arrests on Sunday when they broke up a news conference in the capital Kinshasa attended by activists, journalists and musicians, including Senegalese and Burkinabe youth leaders visiting Congolese counterparts.
The meeting in Kinshasa was being organized by a Congolese movement called Filimbi, which encourages youth to engage in politics.
"This event, sponsored in part by the U.S. government, is one of many activities the U.S. government supports that involve youth and civil society as part of our broader commitment to encourage a range of voices to be heard," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
The arrests come at a sensitive time in Congo's politics. President Joseph Kabila is due to step down next year after completing his second elected term in office but critics fear his camp is looking for ways to allow him to stay in power.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said U.S. authorities have not been officially informed about why Sturr was detained. "Our ambassador in Kinshasa has raised this at the highest levels with the DRC government," Psaki said.
Congolese government officials and ruling coalition parties were invited to the event and some attended, the said, describing the youth groups involved as well-regarded and nonpartisan.
The foreign activists arrested included Fadel Barro, a member of the Senegalese collective of journalists and hip-hop artists Y en a Marre, which helped organize protests against former President Abdoulaye Wade's bid for a third term in 2012.
A member of Burkina Faso's grassroots political group Balai Citoyen, which played a leading role in protests that toppled that country's longtime President Blaise Compaore last year, was also detained.
Four foreign journalists also arrested at the event were freed Sunday.
Mende said Sunday that Congo's intelligence services believed the news conference, billed as an exchange between African civil society organizations, was instead a project organized by "instructors in insurrection."
At least 40 people were killed in violent protests in January against a revision of Congo's electoral law that opponents said was meant to delay the presidential poll.