Freedom from Torture - A tool to silence: torture to crush dissent in the Democratic Republic of Congo

A tool to silence: torture to crush dissent in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Far removed from the conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of Congo, state authorities have been routinely detaining and torturing political activists and those perceived to have challenged the government.

Freedom from Torture has analysed the medico-legal reports of 74 Congolese women and men detained most recently between 2005 and 2017; with the majority of detentions occurring from 2011 onwards.

These women and men were detained for exercising their constitutional rights and were engaging in lawful activities. All were tortured because of their own or others’ political or human rights activity. This includes being a rank-and-file supporter of opposition parties to attending a single meeting or demonstration on a range of issues, from concerns about democracy to women’s rights. None of those targeted had a high profile.

They were arbitrarily detained in official and unofficial detention sites that operated with complete lawlessness. Torture was widespread in all sites and most of those detained, men and women alike, were raped, on multiple occasions and by multiple perpetrators acting with complete impunity.

More than half were detained more than once, often for similar activity, and most were tortured every time. Most were in detention for less than six months on their most recent or only arrest. The vast majority escaped, often with the assistance of a guard, without any formal process or explanation.

 

One minute explainer

 

Stories of survivors

 

A's story

“A”* did well at school, and began studying at university in Kinshasa.

The conditions in the university were very poor. There were not enough desks, no books and few teaching staff.

She became interested in politics when talking with her fellow students.

One day in 2013, they organised a meeting to discuss their opposition to the President’s plans for a third term in office. On their way home, they were surrounded by men in plainclothes. She suspected that someone had told the authorities of their meeting. They were accused of insulting the president. “A” and the others were violently arrested.

They were taken to a prison, where “A” was stripped of all her possessions, including her phone and money. She was separated from her friends, and taken to a small, dark cell in the basement with no furniture. Initially, she was given no food, and following that, only one meal of boiled corn each day. She had no contact with the outside world as no visitors were permitted.

Every day she was tortured. Guards mocked “A” for daring to speak against the president. They beat and raped her, and told her that she would die there. Whenever she heard the lock in the door, she would dread what was going to happen.

After a month, guards came and took her out of the cell. She thought that she might be killed, but instead they released her along with her university friends, without explanation and without ever being charged.

“A” felt angrier after what had happened and continued to be involved in politics. Soon friends warned her that the authorities were looking for her,so she left the DRC and sought protection in the UK.

With the support of Freedom from torture, “A” is rebuilding her life in the UK.

 

*“A” is a pseudonym used in order to protect the individual’s anonymity.

B's story

“B”* grew up in a provincial city.

A good student, science was her strong subject, and she went on to train in medicine. She was politically active and joined an opposition party at university.

After graduating, she moved with her family to Kinshasa to work. One night,without warning, her husband was arrested and detained without trial.

She campaigned for his release, but became the authorities’ next target, when they came to her house during the night and forced their way in. She tried to protest, but they beat her so that she could no longer resist.“B” lost consciousness, and woke in a prison cell.

The cell was cramped, with only just enough space for a thin mattress. She was not allowed to use the toilet when she needed it, guards allowed her toilet access only once a day.

The authorities accused her husband of plotting against the President and she believed she was tortured as punishment. They told her that he would die in prison, and so would she. One high-ranking guard targeted her in particular. He raped her many times, often assaulting her before the rape. Sometimes he beat her with his fists or with a baton; other times he tied her up. She was told that her husband had died.

“B” thought she would die there, but after several years in detention, a guard helped her to escape. He gave her a disguise and a sum of money and took her to another town. From there, she found help to escape from the DRC. “B” arrived in the UK and claimed asylum, but the Home Office rejected her claim. She lodged an appeal, which included a medico-legal report prepared for her by Freedom from Torture, and was eventually granted refugee status in 2017.

 

* “B” is a pseudonym used to protect the individual’s identity.

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