KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo will expel the African activists arrested over the weekend following a U.S.-sponsored event to encourage greater participation in politics, the government announced Wednesday.
The activists — from Senegal and Burkina Faso — are members of movements that have led large-scale protests in their countries in recent years against presidents attempting to extend their time in office. Journalists and an American diplomat were also briefly detained in the sweep, which followed a news conference about the event. The U.S. embassy described the activists as non-partisan and said the event was meant to encourage greater youth engagement in politics.
But Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende told reporters Wednesday that the event had nothing to do with democracy and that the activists' goal was to "drive out the president of the republic." He said the charges against them will be dropped but they have been declared "personae non grata" and will be expelled as soon as possible.
Tension is rising in Congo ahead of next year's presidential election. Pro-democracy activists protesting the weekend's arrests were themselves detained on Tuesday in Goma, in the country's east, according to Omar Kavota, a representative of civil society groups in the region. They were later released, according to U.N.-backed Radio Okapi.
One reporter covering protests of the detentions was reportedly beaten, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists which urged Congo to respect the rights of journalists.
In January, mass protests erupted in Congo against proposed changes to the electoral law, widely seen as a ploy to delay next year's elections and allow President Joseph Kabila to prolong his time in power. Human Rights Watch reported that at least 40 people were killed in the unrest.
Kabila has been president since 2001 and under current law is barred from seeking another term.