Three killed as Catholic Church calls for peaceful protest in DRC
Three people have been killed by security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, when the Catholic Church called on Christians to mount a peaceful protest, on New Year’s Eve to urge President Joseph Kabila to leave office.
President Kabila took power in 2001 when his predecessor was assassinated and refused to step down or hand over power in December 2016 when his tenure expired further heightening conflict in the war-torn country.
The government has banned demonstrations since September 2016 and those that went ahead have been bloodily repressed.
About 150 Catholic churches have called out Christians to come out carrying Bibles and Crucifixes in their hands, on Sunday, in Kinshasa, the capital city. Organisers asked worshippers to “take our destiny in hand — our beautiful country is suffering.”
The government warned against the protest saying, “the city does not have sufficient numbers of police officers to supervise this march,” Andre Kimbuta, governor of the city, said. “Therefore, I do not recognise the authorisation requested.”
Sunday, however, even before the protesters got on the streets, they were met with force by the security forces who fired shots in the air and dispersed a mass with tear gas Sunday, 31 December, Kinshasa. “While we were praying, the soldiers and the police entered the church compound and fired tear gas at the church” where the mass was being held, a worshipper in the parish of St. Michael in the central municipality of Bandalungwa told AFP. “They dispersed us,” he added.
Human Rights Watch however reported the killing of two people by Security forces during anti-government demonstrations in the capital, Kinshasa. Another man was reportedly shot dead in the central city of Kananga by soldiers who opened fire on worshippers, according to AFP news agency.
Chantal, one of the worshipers in the church told AFP that, “People fell, first-aiders are resuscitating old ladies who have fallen, but the priest has not stopped saying mass, which continues with Christians who have not fled,” He recounted.
At the Notre-Dame of Congo Cathedral in Gombe, north Kinshasa, reports say, security forces also fired tear gas as opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi arrived, dispersing the crowd of worshippers. The soldiers also went into the main church in the capital and ordered people out of the church. The parish priest, to avoid any bloodbath, asked worshippers to “return to their homes in peace because there is a heavy presence of soldiers and police ready to fire”.
The Congolese government, in order to frustrate and disrupt the protest, had cut off internet access “for reasons of state security” before Sunday, and the army and police were deployed in large numbers overnight at churches across Kinshasa. Roadblocks were erected in several parts in the city and people and vehicles were stopped and searched.
Jason Stearns, a DR Congo expert at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, in a tweet, said, “The demonstrations… (Sunday) in the Congo could be the largest since last year.” Stearns further added that, “All major opposition parties, civil society, youth movements, and the Catholic Church have all backed peaceful demonstrations.”
Hassan John is West Africa Editor GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos