YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo have arrested ten priests and two nuns in the aftermath of Sunday’s protests against President Joseph Kabila.
According to local news reports, at least 200 persons – probably lay Christians – were also taken.
Church officials said Sunday’s protests also led to the deaths of at least six people, although government authorities claim only two people died from stray bullets.
The protests were called by Catholic lay associations, supported by the clergy, to pressure Kabila to step down. Similar protests in late December left at least seven people dead.
The bishops’ conference has condemned what it calls “the excessive use of force on demonstrators who were only armed with Bibles, rosaries and branches.”
The crackdown has been condemned world-wide, with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling on Congolese security forces to respect the people’s right to free speech and freedom of assembly.
“The Secretary-General urges the Congolese security forces to exercise restraint,” said a statement issued Jan. 22 by UN Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.
Guterres also called on the Congolese authorities to carry out “credible investigations” into the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The Jan. 21 march had been banned by the authorities, and General Sylvano Kasongo Kitenge, the head of the Kinshasa police, visited Notre Dame Cathedral to enforce the order.
“The Mass is ended, priests must go back to their houses now and everyone has to go home. If you resist, we will use force and fire tear gas,” he reportedly told the crowd.
It was no empty threat – police forcibly tried to stop the demonstrations.
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, the capital’s archbishop, has compared the country to “a living hell.”
“We were dispersed by tear gas, stun grenades and live bullets. We have again seen deaths, injuries, priests being arrested, and the theft of citizens’ property,” Monsengwo said.
“Christians were prevented from praying. Others were prevented from leaving by… the police and military, who were armed as if they had been on a battlefield,” he said.
Read more at Crux.