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DRC Activist Remains Defiant After Detention

FILE - A Congolese protester lies on the ground after police opened fire wth rubber bullets while they protested outside the Democratic Republic of the Congo's embassy in defiance of their president, Joseph Kabila, Dec. 20, 2016 in Pretoria, South Africa.

A youth activist released this week after being arrested nearly a month ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo says that despite the treatment he received while in detention, he will not cease calling for President Joseph Kabila to stand down.

Carbone Beni, a leader of the youth group Filimbi, and four fellow activists tried on December 13 to give a memo to top DRC politicians who were involved in negotiations overseen by the Catholic Church. They wished to urge the participants to respect the constitution and encourage Kabila to step down December 19, the end of his second and final term.

Beni told reporters Friday that upon their arrival at the Catholic Church's headquarters, authorities already had prepared to abduct the five of them and not allow them to experience what was going to happen on December 19.

In the absence of elections, which should have taken place in November, Kabila did not step down. Security forces killed at least 34 people during protests in several Congolese cities in the days following December 19, according to Human Rights Watch.

Beni described Kabila's continuing occupation of the presidency as "a constitutional coup d'etat."

The Filimbi leader said he and the other activists were held for two weeks at a military camp, where conditions were "atrocious," with 12 to 15 people being held in cells designed for four. He said there was no food and no shower.

At the end of the two weeks, Beni said, the five activists were transferred to the ANR, the national intelligence agency. He said the ANR questioned him almost daily about Filimbi's alleged plans against the government and said he represented a danger to the country. He insisted, however, that every aspect of Filimbi's struggle was nonviolent, peaceful and nonpartisan.

Last Wednesday, Beni was suddenly released. The other four young activists remain in detention.

Beni said he remained as committed as ever to the rule of law in the DRC. He said he wanted to once more mobilize Congolese citizens in the drive for peace and stability, and he denounced the government's arrests, intimidation and inhumane treatment, which he said were aimed at making the DRC's youth back down.

Human Rights Watch's 2016 country report states that more than 30 activists and political prisoners remain in detention in the DRC. According to the rights group, "political violence and government repression intensified in 2016 as President Joseph Kabila clung to power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit."