June 15, 2015 / 12:43 PM / in 2 years

NGOs demand release of detained pro-democracy activists in Congo

KINSHASA (Reuters) - More than 200 domestic and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called on Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday to release two young activists arrested in March during a raid on a pro-democracy meeting in the capital Kinshasa.

Some 30 activists, musicians and journalists were arrested on suspicion of promoting armed insurrection on March 15 during a news conference organized by Congolese and West African campaigners to promote youth participation in politics.

All have since been released or deported except for Fred Bauma, an activist with Struggle for Change (Lucha), a group based in the eastern city of Goma, and Yves Makwambala, a webmaster working with the Kinshasa-based group Filimbi.

Bauma and Makwambala both spent more than a month in the custody of Congo’s National Intelligence Agency (ANR) before being transferred to prison on charges of plotting against President Joseph Kabila.

“Congolese authorities have held Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala for months without any credible basis,” said Jean-Claude Katende, president of the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADHO) in Congo in the statement. “Both should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

The statement was signed by 220 Congolese and 14 international NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

A parliamentary mission tasked to investigate the arrests told lawmakers last week that it had found no evidence to support the government’s accusations.

The National Assembly then voted to recommend that the two activists be released, one of the report’s authors told Reuters.

Rights groups say that the detentions are part of a broader crackdown on political dissent ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2016.

Kabila, in office since 2001, is constitutionally ineligible to stand for election for a third time but critics fear that he intends to try to hold on to power.

Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Dominic Evans

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