KINSHASA (Reuters) - The European Union and the U.S.-based Carter Center criticised Congo’s government on Friday for banning a protest planned by the Catholic Church as tensions following a disputed election simmer.
The Carter Center, a human rights group that monitored the November 28 vote, said nuns and priests had been arrested and independent media had been censored in what it called “dangerous developments” in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The EU condemned the intervention of security forces near places of worship and a decision to cut the signal of TV and radio stations.
A government spokesman rejected the criticism as “unacceptable”.
Incumbent President Joseph Kabila secured his re-election, but the vote was chaotic and has been broadly criticised by observers as flawed. The Carter Center said at the time the results “lack credibility”.
Kabila’s rivals have rejected the outcome of the vote but, faced with force, struggled to launch large-scale protests.
The Catholic Church, which is highly influential in Congo and has accused the government of “treachery, lies and terror” over the elections, had planned to protest against the vote on Thursday. But authorities prevented people from attending.
“The European Union regrets the banning of the peaceful march that should have taken place on February 16 and the decision by the minister of communication and media to cut the signal of five television and radio stations,” the EU mission in Congo said in a statement on Friday.
The EU is one of Congo’s biggest donors, with some 634 million euros set aside for development projects between 2008 and 2012, on top of humanitarian and election assistance.
Police used armoured personnel carriers to seal off one of Kinshasa’s main churches on Thursday, blocking dozens of people, many of them women, inside for several hours, a Reuters witness said.
In other areas of Kinshasa teargas was fired at protesters as they attempted to march, witnesses said.
While tensions have simmered after the election, especially in the pro-opposition capital, the timing of the march was poignant as it was to coincide with the 20th anniversary of another church-organised pro-democracy march, in which soldiers loyal to former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko killed many demonstrators.
“The arrest of priests, nuns and a human rights activist in Kinshasa, along with the closure of three radio stations, are dangerous developments, and The Carter Center urges the government to reverse these actions immediately,” the organisation said in a statement.
However, the government spokesman said the march had been banned as the organisers had not provided enough information in advance.
“It is unacceptable. We didn’t kill anybody, we are just applying our laws . We do not receive orders from our (international partners),” Information Minister Lambert Mende said by telephone.
Kabila has recognised there were some mistakes in the poll but has said there is no question that he beat his nearest rival, veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.
Kabila has vowed to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and improve the business climate but critics accuse his government of massive corruption and widespread human rights abuses.