Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo arrested one of the country’s leading opposition leaders, two days before a planned general strike by opponents of President Joseph Kabila, his party said.
Martin Fayulu, president of the Commitment to Citizenship and Development, was detained Sunday afternoon in the capital, Kinshasa, and later released, according to government spokesman Lambert Mende.
“He was arrested by the security forces for inciting civil disobedience,” Mende said by phone from Kinshasa. “When it was identified that he was a member of parliament he was released, but the magistrate has opened an inquiry against Mr. Fayulu which will be heard in parliament.”
Fayulu was one of a group of political leaders who last week called for a national strike on Feb. 16 to protest what they say are efforts by Kabila to delay elections and illegally hang on to power. A previous candidate for governor in Kinshasa, Fayulu is a well-known opposition leader in the capital and had been leading efforts to mobilize support for Tuesday’s strike.
Kabila won elections in Africa’s biggest copper-producing country in 2006 and 2011. The constitution prevents him from running in a presidential vote currently scheduled for November.
The United Nations mission in the Congo confirmed Fayulu had been detained by the country’s military intelligence service.
“A group dressed in military fatigues arrived at our party headquarters this afternoon at around 3 p.m. and arrested Fayulu,” Devos Kitoko, secretary general of Fayulu’s political party, said by phone. “We don’t know why he was taken or where he was taken to.”
A spokesman for the national police said he would comment later.
“We know he has been taken,” Jose Maria Aranaz, director of the UN Joint Human Rights Office, said by phone from Kinshasa. “Arresting a national leader is a serious step in the wrong direction confirming worry trends towards the shrinking of the democratic space and the restriction of public freedoms.”
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, called the arrest “a very worrying sign.”
“This is the latest example of repression against opposition leaders and others who have called for respect for the constitution and for elections to be held on time,” Ida Sawyer, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in the Congo, said by phone from Kinshasa.