Human Rights Campaigner Held

Arrest underscores dangers of working as an activist in DRC.

Human Rights Campaigner Held

Arrest underscores dangers of working as an activist in DRC.

Wednesday, 9 September, 2009
The difficulties faced by human rights activists operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, have been highlighted by the arrest and detention of Golden Misabiko, a prominent critic of human rights abuses in the country.

Misabiko, who is president of the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights, ASADHO-Katanga, was arrested on July 24 following the publication by his organisation of a report on uranium mining in the south-east of the country. He has since been freed on bail.

The human rights defender has been charged with damaging national security by spreading false reports about the exploitation of uranium ores at Shinkolobwe mine, which is located in Katanga province about 120 miles north-west of Lubumbashi.

In its report, ASADHO-Katanga strongly criticised the DRC government for not revealing the details of an agreement that it has with French nuclear power giant Areva to mine uranium in Shinkolobwe.

The report says that, under the terms of an agreement signed by the Congolese government in April 2003, all mining activities and uranium exports must be made public.

“The current appalling failure in monitoring and controlling mining activities at Shinkolobwe make governance of natural resources of Katanga an environmental and security problem that must be dealt with urgently,” the report said.

It called for the Areva contract to be made public so that a full assessment of health and safety implications can be made.

The report said that traditional miners in the country usually work without adequate protection and run the risk of becoming sick from radiation poisoning.

Misabiko was arrested and detained by the National Intelligence Agency, ANR, which has been widely accused of instigating arbitrary arrests and torture.

The ANR's principal mandate is to investigate crimes against national security.

At an initial hearing on August 26, the prosecution also accused Misabiko of making allegations, to the Voice of America and the BBC, that uranium from the Shinkolobwe was sold to Iran and North Korea.

Misabiko's lawyers countered that the hearing should focus solely on the contents of the report, and not on statements reported by the media.

The prosecution asked Misabiko to release the names of those who collaborated on the report with him, but he refused, saying that they had the right to be protected.

The provincial government defends the detention of Misabiko, saying that he has been unable to produce evidence to back up some of the claims made in his report.

The government said in a statement, “Golden Misabiko was invited to participate in the inquiry and to show where the unlawful trafficking of radioactive minerals is taking place. But he refused and instead organised a press conference.”

International non-governmental organisations, NGOs, view his arrest as a worrying development.

“This kind of thing is fairly typical in the DRC,” said Lizzie Parsons, a researcher for Global Witness, which investigates exploitation of natural resources. “The ANR are quite notorious for harassing human rights activists and journalists. We don't often see things go as far as the trial stage, however.”

Parsons accepts that the state is not always directly responsible for torture and intimidation tactics, but says that it should assume the lion's share of the responsibility.

“Responsibility must lie with the state for allowing this environment to be formed,” she said. “They must hold to account people who are breaking the law.”

Timothée Mbuya, the vice-president of ASADHO-Katanga and a colleague of Misabiko, has loudly denounced the detention.

“Things are not getting better at all,” he told IWPR. “Even if they are released after their arrest, it is only a matter of time before [the authorities] catch them again. There is corruption within the judiciary, and judges are under a lot of pressure from the government to go for a conviction.”

Mbuya believes that it is important to maintain pressure on the government to put an end to such arbitrary arrests and harassment of human rights activists.

“The government must be told to do the right thing, because, as long as judges are attached to power, they will always do what the government wants and not what is fair,” he said.

Mbuya was arrested along with Misabiko, but released only a few hours later.

NGOs in the country have also been calling for Misabiko's release, denouncing his detention as unlawful.

“We ask the provincial security council of Katanga to [drop the charges against Golden] and to guarantee in all circumstances the security of human rights activists,” said Jacques Mbuya from Action Against Impunity.

Floribert Chebeya, from The Voice of the Voiceless, another NGO, rejects any suggestion that Misabiko is a security threat that necessitates the involvement of the ANR intelligence services.

“In the report, there is nothing that constitutes an offence against national security and the points that are being made can all be checked on the ground,” said Chebeya. “We want the president of the republic to stop any interference of the executive power in the administration of justice.”

The political opposition in Katanga has waded into the case, using Misabiko's arrest to attack the government's human rights record.

“The elections alone are not sufficient to ensure a democratic society,” said Jean Raymond Muyumba, provincial president for the Rally of Social and Federalist Forces, an opposition party. “We also need an independent judicial power, a dynamic parliament, a free press and an expressive society. The role of defending citizens of a country first rests with its government.”

In spite of the arrest of its president, ASADHO-Katanga maintains its position, and says that illegal exploitation at Shinkolobwe’s mine continues.

The mine, which most famously provided the uranium that was used to produce the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, was officially closed at the beginning of 2004, following a cave-in.

Misabiko, who is suffering from persistent ill-health, remains on conditional bail pending further hearings.
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