A Catholic Church leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has decried the state's response to protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down from office as “nothing short of barbaric", after at least five people were killed in the violence and 120 were arrested.
Catholic churches and activists called for peaceful demonstrations after Sunday mass on 31 December, one year after the Catholic Church oversaw the signing of an accord that set a new election date to ease tensions.
The government refused permits for the protests; police surrounded 134 churches in Kinshasa and fired teargas at parishioners.
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, the archbishop of Kinshasa, said people at Mass, armed only with Bibles and rosaries, were attacked with tear gas as police responded with force. At least five people have been killed - one from the church of Saint Dominique, two in Sainte Famille parish and two shot dead outside of Saint Alponse church, Human Rights Watch’s Central Africa director, Ida Sawyer reports. Several priests are amongst the detained.
“How can we trust leaders incapable of protecting the population, of guaranteeing peace, justice and love of people?” the cardinal asked at a news conference.
“How can we trust leaders who trample on religious freedom of the people, religious freedom which is the foundation of all freedom?” he continued.
“We condemn with utmost vigour this unjustified violence,” the Congolese bishops’ conference said in a statement released on 2 January.
"We similarly denounce this attack on freedom of worship, which is guaranteed in every democratic state, as well as the profanation of churches and physical aggression against the faithful and their priests.”
The statement said the bishops were “profoundly shocked by such ignoble acts,” and would demand a “serious and objective inquiry” into who was responsible.
The UN human rights office in Congo condemned “the use of force against peaceful demonstrators” and the “violent suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms by security forces” in tweets published last week.
Kabila, whose mandate ended in December 2016, had agreed to set an election date by the end of 2017. Congo’s election commission says the vote cannot be held until December 2018. Critics accuse Kabila of postponing elections to maintain his grip on power, causing tensions to increase and deadly street demonstrations across the country since the end of 2016.
PICTURES: Opposition supporters in Kinshasa, DRC, chant slogans during a Sept. 19 march to press Congolese President Joseph Kabila to step down during October, 2016; A man sits in front of a picture of President Joseph Kabila Dec. 31, 2016 ©CNS