DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Police attack congregation with tear gas during Mass
As protests against the continued rule of President Joseph Kabila intensified, police invaded Catholic churches and fired tear gas during Mass on Sunday 7 Jan. One witness at St Michael’s Church in central Kinshasa said police disrupted the Mass and arrested altar boys, still in their liturgical robes, who had been protesting against the President. “While we were praying, the soldiers and the police entered the church compound and fired teargas at the church,” he said. Another member of the congregation added: “People collapsed, first-aiders were resuscitating old ladies who had fallen” – but the priest continued saying Mass.
The parish priest of St Alphonse Parish in Kinshasa, Mgr Hugues Ndongisila, said that police had beaten and robbed Catholics who had sought refuge in his church, shooting out its stained-glass windows. The bodies of two dead protesters were later collected by the Red Cross. A UN spokeswoman said seven deaths had been recorded in Kinshasa, and another at Kananga.
Congolese bishops expressed shock at the violence and condemned “with the utmost vigour this unjustified violence.” In a statement they said “We similarly denounce this attack on freedom of worship, which is guaranteed in every democratic state, as well as the profanation of churches and physical aggression against the faithful and their priests.” They called for demand a “serious and objective inquiry” into who was responsible.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the violence was and urged Kabila’s government to show restraint and “respect the rights of Congolese people to free expression.”
The December 31 protest against President Joseph Kabila’s rule was organised by the Kinshasa archdiocesan lay coordination committee. Security forces subsequently targeted Catholic protesters, leaving at least eight dead and 120 people detained, including at least a dozen priests. Catholics make up around half the 67.5 million inhabitants of Congo.
Catholic bishops had pressed Kabila to step down after his second and final term expired in December 2016. Later, a church-brokered agreement allowed the President to stay in office alongside an opposition Head of Government, pending elections by the end of 2017. However, in November, it was announced that elections would be postponed until December 2018. The bishops are urging Kabila to release political detainees and stick to the December 2016 agreement.