Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Rights Groups Call for Marie Therese Nlandu's Release

Joseph Kabila took office on Dec. 6. (Photo: Lionel Healing / AFP-Getty Images)

The president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is being urged to release human rights lawyer and former presidential candidate Marie Therese Nlandu and her associates from prison.

The calls come following the resumption of Nlandu's trial before a military tribunal in the Congo capital, Kinshasa, on Jan. 24. The former presidential candidate and her associates have been charged with illegal possession of firearms and with organizing an "insurrectionary movement." If convicted, they face execution by firing squad.

Nlandu, who had been residing in the United Kingdom, went to Congo in 2006 to contest in the country's presidential elections.

After her elimination in the first round of voting, her political party switched its support to Joseph Kabila's opponent, then-Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba. Nlandu went on to represent Bemba's appeal before the Supreme Court of Justice in Kinshasa against the results of the second round of the elections that were announced on Nov. 15.

She was arrested on Nov. 21, two weeks before President Kabila's inauguration, when she went to Kin-Maziere Police Station to visit and bring food to six of her associates who had been arrested the previous day.

Upon her arrest, she was informed that she would not be facing a judicial trial but would instead be appearing before a three-man military tribunal.

"This is particularly disconcerting as hearings by military courts in Congo are routinely unfair and fail to respect minimum international standards of fair trials. Upon news of this, Nlandu told her lawyer that she felt the decision of the tribunal was a foregone conclusion, and that she was expecting to face execution by firing squad," the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said.

Nlandu's trial before the military court began on Dec. 22 and was adjourned on Jan. 3 because her health has deteriorated, due to the poor conditions under which she is being incarcerated, and because she has been receiving inadequate access to medical treatment.

The trial resumed on Jan. 24.

Amnesty International points out that the trial of civilians by a military court is a violation of international fair trial standards. It also violates Congo's 2006 constitution as well as the Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, which were issued by the African Commission on Human and People's Rights in 2003.

"The prosecution appears to be politically motivated, and it seems that Marie-Therese Nlandu is being targeted for her work as a lawyer and her peaceful political activities. Some of the prosecution evidence that may be presented was reportedly obtained through torture or ill-treatment, which would make it inadmissible under international law," Amnesty International says.

Article 156 of Congo's 2006 constitution states that military courts may only hear cases involving army and police personnel while "Provision 5(L) Right of Civilians Not To Be Tried by Military Court" of the African Commission's Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa (2003) states that: "The only purpose of military courts shall be to determine offenses of a purely military nature committed by military personnel."

It adds: "Military courts should not in any circumstances whatsoever have jurisdiction over civilians."

[According to a report by BosNewsLife, despite the fact that the prosecution's case fell apart after witnesses admitted that they had allegedly been paid by the government to incriminate Nlandu, she remains in prison. The court is due to reconvene on Feb. 14.]

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