Amnesty calls for release of arrested Congolese activists

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — A rights group called on Congo’s government on Monday to release youth activists who were arrested more than two weeks ago in a raid that also briefly swept up an American diplomat.

The arrests came at a time of rising tension in Congo, where some fear President Joseph Kabila is attempting to prolong his time in power after his term ends next year.

On March 15, security forces arrested several people at the end of a press conference about a U.S.-sponsored event to encourage young people to participate in politics. The government has said the people present posed a threat to state security.

The diplomat and some journalists were quickly released. Activists from Senegal and Burkina Faso — who belonged to movements that have led large-scale protests against presidents attempting to extend their time in office — were deported.

But several Congolese activists remain in detention. Sylvain Lumu, their lawyer, says he has not been told how many are in detention or where they are being held.

Amnesty International launched a campaign Monday to press for the activists’ release, noting that they were being held “incommunicado,” which it said increased the chance they might be tortured. The rights group said it will circulate a petition and its members will send letters and tweets expressing support for the activists and calling for their release.

Lambert Mende, the Congolese government spokesman, called Amnesty’s campaign “gratuitous agitation.”

A parliamentary committee began investigating the arrests on Monday, after a lawmaker, whose son was among those detained, also called for the activists’ release.

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