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Pro-Democracy Activists Appear in Court in DRC

Six pro-democracy activists arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo appeared in court Thursday.

Several human rights groups that spoke to VOA confirmed that the students, who are members of the La Lucha movement, were arrested early Tuesday at a private house in the eastern city of Goma.

A source in the U.N. mission in Congo, MONUSCO, said the six were charged on five counts, including association with wrongdoers, disturbing public order and incitement to tribal hatred.

A spokesman for La Lucha, Luc Nkulula, told VOA the charges are trumped up and the real reason for the arrests is that the activists helped organize the general strike which brought Goma and several other big DRC cities to a standstill Tuesday.

The strike was called to protest the government's lack of preparation for elections that are due later this year.

Nkulula said that authorities do not want any section of the population to demand elections in Congo, which is why the group was arrested. The trial is a political one that has violated legal procedures, he added.

Nkulula said the strike was La Lucha's idea.

"We told civil society and the opposition that it would be better to hold a strike than to organize a march as they were proposing," he said.

La Lucha polled ordinary people to gauge support for a strike, and then printed and distributed leaflets announcing the work stoppage, according to Nkulula.

Others detained

At least one other La Lucha activist has been arrested in Kinshasa since Tuesday, and one or more activists of another civil society organization were detained in the eastern town of Bukavu.

"We have not had news of our friends who were arrested in Kinshasa and that is very worrying," Nkulula said.

VOA asked the government for a comment, but no response was immediately forthcoming.

The embassies of the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Canada issued a joint statement Thursday celebrating the 10th anniversary of the DRC constitution.

The countries share the hope expressed in that document for "a state governed by the rule of law, and for a powerful and prosperous nation, founded on a real political, economic, social and cultural democracy," according to the statement.