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Violent repression of church demonstration in Congo raises concerns

February 28, 2012

NAIROBI, Kenya

After the Congolese Roman Catholic church challenged the credibility of election results in which President Joseph Kabila was declared the winner, the stabbing death of a nun and the arrest of three priests and two nuns in February are causing concern.

The unease heightened after police on Feb. 16 violently broke up a peaceful march the church had organized to demand truth about the November polls. Two weeks earlier, Sr. Mary Lilliane Mapalayi had been killed at a school in western Kasai province where she served as a treasurer.

According to news reports, several people have died in escalating violence resulting from the power struggle between Kabila and the main opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekendi.

According Rev. Lori Cattani, a leader of the Peace Network for Congo, the government would have done better to allow the protest march.

In an interview with Fides news service on Feb. 21, Cattani said the international community appeared willing to accept the results, despite the protests and fraud, with the hope it can ensure future elections will be conducted in a fair manner. The Catholic church has criticized elections and called for a review of the whole process.

At the same time, concerned the government was stifling freedom of expression, the Carter Center, a U.S.-based non-profit founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, urged the government not to interfere with the rights of the Congolese citizens to peaceful assembly.

In a Feb. 16 statement, the Carter Center reminded the government that peaceful political expression is a fundamental human right protected by the Congolese constitution and international treaties signed by the government.

Churches around the world have been calling for a resolution of the Congolese post-election dispute.

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