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.
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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.
Seven Congolese musicians who had been detained during the raid were released.
Amnesty International calls for the release of the immediate and unconditional release of the human rights activists, and for those who bear criminal responsibility for the arbitrary arrests to be brought to justice in a fair trial.
March 21. La Lucha members receive three different messages on a La Lucha cell phone.
DRC Member of Parliament, Gilbert Kiakwama calls for the release of the seven Congolese activists still in prison, including his son. He says, “I am afraid that my son will be another Chebeya.”
The President of the National Assembly announces that a commission will be established to gather information on the March 15 incident and report on the arrests.
March 27. The Information commission is established.
March 30. Two weeks after being detained, the families and lawyers of some of the detained are allowed to meet with them for the first time.
March 31. La Lucha again demands the immediate and unconditional release of their colleague, Fred Bauma. La Lucha member, Luc Nkulula, says that Fred Bauma is being held incommunicado and his family and lawyers were not being permitted to visit him.
April 7. Five members of La Lucha are arrested in Goma while distributing leaflets on the main street in Goma to encourage residents to participate in a 5-minute protest at 5pm by whistling, honking horns and banging on pots and pans. This was intended to be a peaceful protest of the ongoing detention of the three activists who remained in custody in Kinshasa.
April 10. The Director General of the National Intelligence Agency tells Human Rights Watch that the three activists remaining in custody in Kinshasa are being detained under ‘security investigation,’ not a ‘judicial inquiry.’
April 11. Two employees of Rawbank managed a bank account for Filimbi are arrested by the National Intelligence Agency.
Human Rights Watch calls for the immediate release of the seven detained activists.. Three in Kinshasa: Fred Bauma, Yves Makwambala, and Sylvain Saluseke. Four in Goma: Trésor Akili, Gentil Muluma, Vincent Kasereka, and Sylvain Kambere.
April 15. Human Rights Watch calls for the immediate release of “seven peaceful activist who have been wrongfully detained, some since March 15, 2015. They also delineate the sequence of arrests and mistreatment, including torture, of the activists.
April 16. The US issues a Statement expressing deep concern about the prolonged detention of the Congolese democracy activists in Kinshasa and Goma—without formal charges and regular access to legal counsel. The Statement calls n the Government of the DR Congo “to ensure that these detainees, and all detainees, are afforded full due process and released immediately if no charges are warranted.”
April 22. The new Youth Movement releases a powerful statement.
Sylvian Saluseke, one of the three held in Kinshasa, is released. His lawyer says he is seriously traumatized.
The four youth organizations involved in the March 15 event, release a powerful joint statement. Here are a few excerpts:
“We are not plotters or terrorists, we are a new generation of committed young Africans.
We who hold the destiny of the continent in our hands must not be deprived of our freedom.
We are a new civic movement that has just emerged in Africa. We will not be intimidated by long detentions, harassment and repression.
We are Filimbi. We are Lucha. We are Balai Citoyen. We are Y en a Marre. We use our voices and whistles rather than weapons to advance democracy. We put good governance, responsible government and respect for basic freedoms at the top of our list of demands. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and all over Africa, we are proud to be part of the civic awakening of young Africans.
We became involved in a peaceful way, because we believe this is the only way we can strengthen the democratic process and build a popular movement strong enough to make the state accountable.
We have a moral duty to those who are still detained and also to ourselves as African citizens. Join us in our fight for the release of our colleagues.
We are Filimbi. We are Lucha. We are Balai Citoyen. We are Y en a marre. We use our voices and whistles for democracy, not weapons. We are not plotters. We are not terrorists. We are young African activists!”
April 24. After 40 in solitary confinement and without access to a lawyer, Yves Makwambala is transferred from the Intelligence Agency prison to Kinshasa’s main judicial prison, Makala.
April 28. The 15-member Parliamentary Commission on the Filimbi activists submits its Report to the Office of the President, although the report doesn’t become public until June 10. The Commission found no evidence of terrorist activity or plotting by the Filimbi activists, and urges the Attorney General’s office to urgently address the cases of the two remaining detainees. THE REPORT
May 4. After 50 days in solitary confinement and without access to a lawyer, Fred Bauma is transferred from detention in the Intelligence Agency prison to Makala prison in Kinshasa. Neither Fred Bauma nor Yves Makwambala has been notified of the charges against them.
May 6. With reference to Fred Bauma’s situation, the United Nations expresses concern about the use of arbitrary arrest and the lack of access to justice for members of the opposition, civil society groups, and human rights activists.
May 15. Fred Bauma’s lawyers appeared in court and called for the case to be dismissed by the judges, on the grounds of the lack of evidence of guilt. Both Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala are denied bail.
May 20. The Tribunal rejects the appeal of Fred Bauma’s lawyers for his release. The prosecution is permitted to continue to detain him on the grounds that they still need to continue their investigation in order to establish the guilt of Fred Bauma, even though he was arrested more than two months prior.
June 10. Contents of the Parliamentary Commission on the Filimbi activists is leaked.
June 15. Over 200 rights groups sign a document urging Congolese authorities to immediately and unconditionally free the ‘Filimbi activists’ – Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala.
33 Members of Parliament in Belgium, other European countries and the DR Congo, along with Congo experts sign an Amnesty International Belgium letter calling for the release of Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala.
July 9. The European Union approved a Resolution “on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in particular the case of two detained human rights activists Yves Makwambala and Fred Bauma (2015/2757(RSP)). The Resolution passed: 85 for, 0 against, 6 abstentions. FULL RESOLUTION. Excerpts:
“The European Parliament…
Deplores the loss of lives and the arbitrary violence and arrests performed on the demonstrators during the protests of January 2015, as well as the crackdown on activists and political opponents notably the events during the launch of the Filimbi movement in March 2015;
Calls the DRC authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Yves Makwambala and Fred Bauma and to drop all charges against them and other Filimbi Leaders as well as any other activists or political opponents arbitrarily arrested and detained solely for their political views of for participating in peaceful activities…”
July 15. The Government of the UK in its mid-year update on the DR Congo addressed the issues of arbitrary arrest. FULL REPORT. Excerpts:
“Whilst pleased that calls for an end to violence were heeded, we remained concerned that the aftermath of the demonstrations saw a narrowing of political space with arbitrary arrests and detentions; threats against opposition politicians, journalists and human rights defenders; and the interruption of internet, mobile telephone and SMS systems. UN reports point to at least 300 people being detained in mass arrests during the protests. Of these, at least 11 were believed to be held without being allowed to communicate to the outside world, including prominent civil society representative Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba, coordinator of the “Civil Society of Congo” platform.
Ngoyi and political activists Cyrille Dowe, Jean-Claude Muyambo, Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, Ernest Kyaviro, and Vano Kiboko remained in detention, in some cases for over five months without charge, or access to families or lawyers….
On 15 March, youth leaders from Burkina Faso, Senegal and the DRC were arrested in Kinshasa after a press conference and workshop organised by a coalition of youth organisations called Filimbi. The main speakers at the press conference, along with around forty other individuals, were detained by the security services. The authorities portrayed the youth leaders as terrorists, with the Minister of Communications accusing them of “fomenting unrest and promoting violence”. The authorities released most of the detainees in the week after their arrest, but two remained in detention: Fred Bauma, member of the youth movement LUCHA, and Yves Makwambala, the designer of the Filimbi web site. Both were reportedly held without charge or access to legal assistance, and were brought before judicial authorities only after considerable delay. Officials from our embassy in Kinshasa joined other international observers in monitoring court hearings in the case and those of a number of other activists detained in recent months.
We welcomed the parliamentary commission of inquiry into the Filimbi arrests and were pleased that it led to an investigation of the case. We also welcomed its finding that there is no evidence that participants in the workshop were involved in activities of a terrorist nature, and its recommendation that a ”political solution” be found in order to enable the release of Bauma and Makwambala who remain in prison in Kinshasa. We encouraged the DRC government to act upon this recommendation as soon as possible.”
August 5. A lawyer for Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala says the charges against the two young men include “criminal conspiracy, attempt to overthrow the regime, and conspiracy against the person or life of the head of State.” Although the trial officially began on May 20, today is the first appearance in court by the two defendants.
August 8. On Saturday, while participating in a Youth Parliament in Kinshasa, La Lucha activist Bienvenu Matumo disappears. He left the room saying someone had come to see him and was waiting outside, and then there was no trace of him.
August 11. On Monday, the whereabouts of Bienvenu Matumo remain unknown.
August 12. The spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo expresses his concern about the disappearance of La Lucha member, Bienvenu Matumo. The UN calls for an immediate cessation of extrajudicial arrests in the DR Congo.
Bienvenu Matumo is released. He had been detained by the National Intelligence Agency. While detained, he was interviewed twice about his ties to Fred Bauma.