March 15. On Sunday March 15 in Kinshasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, about pro-democracy 30 youth activists from the Congo, Burkina Faso and Senegal gather for a press conference, followed by a workshop on strategies to increase youth participation in the electoral process, increase youth civic engagement generally, and to form a unified youth movement, Filimbi (Swahili for ‘whistle’). Also present at the press conference and workshop are Congolese musicians and about 10 Congolese and international journalists and observers.
The organizations leading this youth movement are: La Lucha (Struggle for Change), a Congolese youth group based in Goma in the east of the country, the Senagalese group Y’en a marre (Enough’s Enough) and the Burkina Faso group Balai Citoyen (Citizen’s Broom).
At approximately 4pm, as the workshop was beginning, Intelligence security forces in uniform storm the cultural centre meeting place and begin arresting people.
They arrest about 40 people, including an American diplomat, and Senegalese and Burkina Faso citizens. Foreign journalists and diplomats are quickly released from detention.
The Congolese National Intelligence Agency says that the purpose of the gathering was to promote violence by training Congolese youth on insurrection and on the use of instruments of violence, and that a subsequent workshop was planned for teaching how to make Molotov cocktails. The authorities also question the legality of Filimbi, saying it had been created overnight without the appropriate registration.
Filimbi counters saying that they had openly requested visas for its foreign participants, and the seminars were open to the public. Further, they say that throughout the workshop, they had reiterated that violence is not the solution – a statement confirmed by the many foreign observers.
One of those arrested is Fred Bauma, a leading member of La Lucha.
March 16. Sylvain Saluseke, a Filimbi activist who had not been detained the previous day, is summoned to the National Intelligence Agency and is arrested.
March 17. On Tuesday March 17, after publicly demanding Fred Bauma’s release, members of La Lucha hold a demonstration in Goma to demand the immediate and unconditional release of their friend and colleague. They protest in Goma right outside the local office of the National Intelligence Agency. Observers describe the demonstration as “very peaceful.” The protesters were chanting and waving banners.
Security forces swarm out of the building and ordered the activists to sit down. They sit down, but link arms and start singing the national anthem.
The security agents then violently attack the sitting group, violently abusing some of then; one was tortured in full public view. Ten La Lucha activists and two Belgian nationals were arrested. The Belgians were quickly released (with one requiring immediate medical attention at the hospital for injuries sustained.) The remaining La Lucha activists were released that same evening.
A lawyer who had gone to the Intelligence Agency office in the afternoon to meet with one of the detainees was attacked in the street that night and had to be hospitalized for his injuries.
March 18. At a press conference, the Government’s media spokesperson, Lambert Mende, describes a plot to violently overthrow the government, instigated by the Senegalese and Burkina Faso activists and supported by Congolese “accomplices,” including Fred Bauma and Sylvain Saluseke. He claims that investigators found “military uniforms” and “very interesting material in the suitcases” of the arrested activists, and that the government found $100,000 in a Kinshasa bank to pay the costs.
The US Embassy in the DR Congo confirms it partially sponsored the youth event and defends purpose of the event to enhance youth participation in the electoral and political processes.
Human Rights Watch expresses serious concerns about the implication of the arrests in Kinshasa and Goma as signaling a “broader crackdown on free expression” in the country generally in advance of the 2016 elections.