Police arrested five members of a pro-democracy group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday as they protested against the illegal detention of activists in the capital Kinshasa, group members said.
Police in the city of Goma arrested the members of the youth movement Lucha as they encouraged residents to participate in five minutes of protest by whistling, honking horns and banging on pots and pans at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT), they said.
“The police arrived from one side (of the road) and took five (people). The others who were on the other side of the road were able to hide,” said one Lucha member, who wished to remain anonymous.
The political climate in Congo is tense ahead of the presidential election scheduled for late next year when President Joseph Kabila’s mandate is set to expire in the copper and diamond-rich country of 68 million people.
Civil society leaders say the government is waging a crackdown to silent critics.
Some 40 activists, musicians and journalists were detained in the capital Kinshasa on March 15 during a news conference organised by Congolese and West African pro-democracy advocates intended to promote youth participation in politics. A U.S. diplomat was briefly detained at the event.
At least three of those who attended the meeting, including a member of Lucha, remain in the custody of the Congolese national intelligence agency (ANR), according to a member of a parliamentary mission that visited them last week. Rights groups say the total number still detained could be higher.
The detainees have not been charged with a crime or given access to a lawyer, the parliamentarian said, though he added that they had not been mistreated.
Anti-government protests have sometimes turned violent and in January at least 40 people were killed during a march against a proposed election law that critics say is intended to extend Kabila’s time in power.