Three Congolese activists, arrested hours before a general strike in February to demand that President Joseph Kabila leave power when his mandate expires this year, were sentenced on Friday to one year in prison, the United Nations said.
Bienvenu Matumo and Heritier Kapitene, members of the pro-democracy group Struggle for Change (Lucha), and Victor Tesongo, a member of an opposition party, were convicted of inciting disobedience and spreading false information, said Jose Maria Aranaz, director of the U.N. human rights office in Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We are very worried about this instrumentalisation of the judiciary and the continued criminalisation of civil society,” Aranaz told Reuters.
The three were arrested shortly after attending a meeting with other peaceful pro-democracy activists to prepare for the strike, the campaign group Human Rights Watch said.
Dozens of Kabila’s critics have been arrested since last year as part of what the United Nations and rights groups say is an escalating crackdown on political dissent ahead of a presidential election scheduled for November.
Kabila is ineligible to stand for re-election after serving two elected terms but opponents accuse him of trying to delay the poll to hold onto power. Congo’s highest court ruled last week that Kabila could stay in power if elections did not occur by the end of his mandate.
The government says it is unlikely to be able to organise the vote on time due to logistical and budgetary constraints. It denies that any of the arrests are politically motivated.
On Thursday, a leading opposition presidential candidate, Moise Katumbi, was indicted for allegedly hiring mercenaries in a plot against the state. Katumbi denies the accusation, which he says is meant to derail his presidential bid.