After protests were met with teargas and arrests, the Carter Center issued a statement calling on the Congolese government to release church leaders in custody.
Three priests and two nuns were arrested Thursday at a march organized by the church to protest the controversial November 28 elections won by incumbent President Joseph Kabila, according to Radio Netherlands.
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Congolese rights group Asadho also condemned alleged attacks on demonstrators.
"These acts constitute serious attacks on the freedom of expression and (the right) to demonstrate peacefully," the group said, according to Agence France-Presse.
The Carter Center also criticized the Congolese government for closing three radio stations, and arresting a human rights activist, calling the moves, “dangerous developments.”
“Radio stations should be reopened and the government should release from custody immediately those who have been arrested for their peaceful political activities,” reads the statement.
International observers said the November elections lacked credibility, citing 100 percent turn out at some polls, with almost all votes going to the president.
Opposition leaders said the vote was fraudulent. Before the results were announced, presidential hopeful Etienne Tshisekedi declared himself the true victor, swearing himself in as president in late December.
Human Rights Watch says dozens of protesters have been killed, and many more arrested since the election results were announced in early December.
Mvemba Dizolele, from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies says it was clear that the elections would be controversial before a ballot was cast. He told Voice of America that making the election a one-round contest clearly favored the incumbent, in addition to having “faulty” voter rolls.
“A lot of these issues were issues that we all had flagged before that come to now bite us,” Dizolele told VOA. “So at this moment, we have a crisis where the election results were proclaimed but you have Kabila claiming to be the winner, you also have Tshisekedi claiming to be the winner.”
The demonstration also marked the 20th anniversary of another Congo protest gone wrong.
On February 16, 1992, the church lead a demonstration they called the “March of Hope,” but the event soon after became known as the “March of Hope” massacre. Troops loyal to dictator Mobutu Sese Seko crushed the protest, killing 46 people, according to the Historical Dictionary of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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