Cardinal compares Congo under Joseph Kabila to an open prison

Catholic Church becomes focus for opposition to DRC president’s efforts to retain power

Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest against President Joseph Kabila, organised by the local Catholic Church in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: Kenny Katombe/Reuters

Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest against President Joseph Kabila, organised by the local Catholic Church in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: Kenny Katombe/Reuters

 

The head of Congo’s Catholic Church condemned the government of President Joseph Kabila on Tuesday for a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, suggesting his country was becoming like a prison.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo has been ratcheting up a conflict between the government and one of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s most powerful institutions, as the church increasingly becomes a focal point for opposition to Mr Kabila’s efforts to stay in power with no mandate.

Riot policemen march before blocking demonstrators during a protest against President Joseph Kabila organised by the local Catholic Church in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: Kenny Katombe/Reuters
Riot policemen march before blocking demonstrators during a protest against President Joseph Kabila organised by the local Catholic Church in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: Kenny Katombe/Reuters

Security forces shot dead at least six people and wounded dozens more as they fired tear gas to disperse a protest on Sunday that the Catholic Church had organised, triggering widespread international condemnation.

“We were dispersed by tear gas, stun grenades and live bullets. We have again seen deaths, injuries, priests being arrested, and the theft of citizens’ property,” Monsengwo said at the church in the capital Kinshasa.

Riot policemen fire tear gas to disperse Catholic priests and demonstrators during a protest against President Joseph Kabila, organised by the local Catholic Church in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: Kenny Katombe/Reuters
Riot policemen fire tear gas to disperse Catholic priests and demonstrators during a protest against President Joseph Kabila, organised by the local Catholic Church in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: Kenny Katombe/Reuters

“Christians were prevented from praying. Others were prevented from leaving by... police and military who were armed as if they had been on a battlefield,” he said.

Armed rebel groups

A military spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in December 2016 has triggered a series of street protests in which scores have been killed in Kinshasa. It has also emboldened armed rebel groups in different parts of Congo.

Protesters burn tyres during a demonstration in Kinshasa calling for President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to step down on, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images
Protesters burn tyres during a demonstration in Kinshasa calling for President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to step down on, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images

“How can you kill men, women, children, youths and old people all chanting religious songs, carrying bibles, rosaries and crucifixes?” Monsengwo asked.

“Are we now living in an open prison?”

Congo’s influential Roman Catholic Church has emerged as a flashpoint for opposition to Mr Kabila, while his political opposition remains flimsy and divided.

Sunday’s violence was an echo of similar bloodshed on New Year’s Eve, when Congolese forces killed at least seven people in the capital during a protest by Catholic activists.

Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest against President Joseph Kabila, organised by the local Catholic Church, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: Kenny Katombe/Reuters
Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest against President Joseph Kabila, organised by the local Catholic Church, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 21st, 2018. Photograph: Kenny Katombe/Reuters

Mr Kabila blames delays in an election meant to replace him on logistical problems with registering voters. The vote will not be held until the end of this year at the earliest.

The resulting instability has stoked fears that the vast, mineral-rich country could slide back into the wars that killed millions in the 1990s, mostly from hunger and disease. – Reuters