March 4, 2016 / 7:23 PM / 2 years ago

Congo court reduces activists' sentences for anti-Kabila signs

KINSHASA (Reuters) - An appeals court on Friday reduced the prison sentences for six Congolese activists jailed for preparing banners demanding that President Joseph Kabila step down when his term ends this year, their lawyer said.

Joseph Kabila Kabange, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The sentences for the activists from Struggle for Change (Lucha), convicted of incitement to revolt after police found them making the signs in a private home, were cut from two years to six months, Georges Kapiamba said.

Kapiamba said the appeals court’s decision was political and the judges did not provide a clear rationale for the reduction. He added that his clients would appeal again.

“They reduced the sentence to six months but we reject that,” Kapiamba said. “This is shameful. The dossier is empty.”

The United Nations’ human rights office in Congo confirmed the verdict.

Rights groups, the United Nations and several Western countries condemned last week’s verdict as politically motivated. The government denied the accusation and accused critics of meddling in its judiciary.

Kabila succeeded his assassinated father in 2001 and won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011. The constitution bars him from standing for a third term.

But critics say he is working to delay a presidential poll scheduled for November so he can stay in power. Dozens died in violent anti-government protests in January 2015 over the issue.

Four Lucha activists were sentenced to 12 months in prison last September for inciting civil disobedience after they encouraged public demonstrations on behalf of an imprisoned fellow activist. Two others are on trial in Goma on similar charges.

The United Nations said in a report in December that the crackdown on political dissent, including summary executions and arbitrary detentions, was likely to undermine the credibility of coming elections.

Reporting by Aaron Ross; editing by Andrew Roche

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