• Organization calls move ‘brazen’ attempt to muzzle reporting
  • Government says it can’t comment on link to advocacy work

A senior researcher with Human Rights Watch was barred from the Democratic Republic of Congo after authorities refused to renew her work permit, the New York-based advocacy group said.

Ida Sawyer, a U.S. citizen who’s worked with HRW in Africa’s top copper producer since 2008, has been a vocal critic of alleged abuses committed by both the government of President Joseph Kabila and its opponents.

“The Congolese government’s move to bar an experienced Human Rights Watch researcher under the guise of a work permit matter should fool no one,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of the group, said in a statement. “This is about more than forcing Ida Sawyer out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but is a brazen attempt to muzzle reporting on the government’s brutal repression of those supporting presidential term limits.”

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said by phone that he couldn’t comment on whether the visa decision was linked to Sawyer’s advocacy work. Immigration services have provided no reason for their decision and are under no obligation to do so, he said.

“Locking up Congolese activists and forcing international rights monitors out of the country are the tactics of abusive governments,” Roth said. “The government should get serious about improving human rights by freeing all political prisoners and allowing Congolese and international rights defenders, including Sawyer, to continue their vital work.”

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