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DRC: Prolonged secret detention of human rights defender Mr Réné Kahukula
Over 80 days after his abduction on 1 June 2012 and subsequent arrest by Congolese security agents, human rights defender Mr Réné Kahukula remains unlawfully deprived of his liberty and is reportedly detained in harsh and inhumane conditions.
The authorities responsible for his detention have thus far refused to provide any information on the whereabouts of the human rights defender, beyond acknowledging the fact that he is in detention.
Réné Kahukula is co-founder of Conseil des Jeunes Solidaires du Congo-Kinshasa – COGESKI (The Council of Youths in Solidarity of Congo-Kinshasa) and coordinator of Actions pour le Dévéloppement des Paysans Déshérités – ADEPAD (Actions for the Development of Disinherited Peasants). He has been actively involved in civil society efforts to monitor and expose fraud and irregularities observed in the recent general elections in DRC, and has been at the forefront of an ongoing campaign seeking justice in relation to the 2010 assassination of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya.
Recent reports suggest that Réné Kahukula has been transferred from a secret detention centre in Bukavu, where he had been held incommunicado since being abducted in Burundi, to a prison in Kinshasa, after transiting through another prison in the town of Goma en route. These reports remain unconfirmed, however, as the officials responsible for his detention have thus far refused to provide information concerning the whereabouts of the human rights defender.
On 6 July 2012, Réné Kahukula and two of his co-detainees sent out a hand-written note from a secret prison operated by a military detachment in Bukavu, exposing a possible assassination plot against them. The note details the circumstances in which they were abducted and handed over to military personnel stationed in Bukavu who reportedly subjected them to daily physical and pyschological torture in an apparent effort to force them into making false confessions. Furthermore, the detainees were not allowed to wash in the detention centre, they were sometimes denied food and it was so dark that it was impossible to tell night from day. According to the note, their names were not recorded in the prison log book.
Responding to the illegality of the detention of Réné Kahukula and his two colleagues, the Congolese Minister of Justice addressed a letter, dated 3 July 2012, to the commander of military operations in Bukavu, seeking the release of the detainees or alternatively their handover to a competent judicial authority. Front Line Defenders has established that neither of these actions has been undertaken.
Réné Kahukula and his co-detainees were abducted in Bujumbura, the capital of neighbouring Burundi, on the evening of 1 June 2012 by unidentified assailants who appeared to be Burundians. The next day, they were smuggled through the border post of Gatumba and handed over to a military unit led by Colonel Delphin Kahimbi, commander of the Congolese Army’s operations in South Kivu province. After a short detention in Uvira, they were taken to a secret prison in the town of Bukavu and held in a cell of approximately five square metres, which accommodated more than 20 detainees at times.
While detained in Bukavu, they were not informed of any charges against them. They were also denied family visits and were not allowed access to a lawyer. The human rights defender's family and friends indicate that he is diabetic and thus fear that his health might deteriorate due to harsh conditions in detention.
Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned for the safety of Réné Kahukula and condemns his continued secret detention which it believes is motivated by his peaceful and legitimate human rights work.