Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) new president, Felix Tshisekedi, pardoned three prominent political prisoners and 700 regular ones on Wednesday, state TV reported, a goodwill gesture signaling a break with a predecessor who had scores of his opponents jailed.
The president freed
opposition figures Franck Diongo, Diomi Ndongala and Firmin Yangambi, who had
been imprisoned on charges such as insurrection against the Congolese state,
under former president Joseph Kabila. Diongo had been sentenced to five years
for detaining three soldiers during protests in 2016.
Tshisekedi took over from
Kabila after a December 30 election that enabled Democratic Republic of Congo’s
first transfer power at the ballot box since independence in 1960.
The measures were clearly
intended to signal a departure from Kabila’s 18-year rule, the latter years of
which were characterised by crackdowns on political dissent.
Scores of opposition
politicians and activists were arrested in 2016, the year Kabila’s legal
mandate ran out and many called for him to go.
Rights groups called the
charges politically motivated.
The pardons might go some
way towards allaying fears that Tshisekedi is to some extent a front for
Kabila’s interests. Supporters of opposition candidate Martin Fayulu and some
independent observers rejected December’s election results as a stitch up based
on a deal done between Tshisekedi and Kabila, a charge their camps both deny.
Over a hundred more political prisoners still remain jailed in Congo, and rights groups have called for all to be released.
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