Gabriel Tambwe, Detained 14 Months in DR Congo
It’s been 14 months since Congolese activist Gabriel Tambwe Mwidima was arrested and charged with “threatening state security.”
Despite the seriousness of those charges, any threat to state security that Tambwe and 10 other accused supposedly caused has never materialized. Tambwe, director of a nongovernmental organization, Œuvre Spéciale pour les Amis Chrétiens (OSAC), remains in Kinshasa’s central prison awaiting trial. OSAC is a small Christian group that works for the protection of vulnerable groups, including children, and fights against neglected tropical diseases.
“I don’t know my fate,” Tambwe told Human Rights Watch visitors to his prison. “Until now, there hasn’t been any follow-up on my case. My wish is that I be released because I’m innocent.”
His wife struggles with him: “My husband suffers a lot in prison. His parents are no longer alive, and his family is very poor. They don’t have the resources to provide for us. Gabriel is innocent, and I hope that he will be released. I can’t do anything alone.”
Tambwe’s life began to unravel on May 13, 2016, when he was arrested by intelligence agents in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A week before his arrest, on May 4, Congo’s justice minister had announced an investigation into presidential aspirant Moïse Katumbi – President Joseph Kabila’s main rival – for alleged “recruitment of mercenaries, [including] several retired American soldiers.” Tambwe was accused of having facilitated the entry of such “American mercenaries” into Congo. While Tambwe’s organization had invited four United States citizens to Congo on behalf of a partner organization, these individuals were never accused or found to have any links to Katumbi, no evidence emerged regarding the supposed recruitment of mercenaries, and Katumbi was never charged regarding these allegations. Katumbi was later charged and convicted in absentia in an unrelated case that also appeared to be politically motivated.
More than a year later, the 38-year-old father of three remains in prison in Kinshasa. Tambwe was held incommunicado at the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) headquarters for a month before being transferred to Kinshasa’s central prison. The 10 others who were arrested around the same time were also accused of having links to Katumbi.
“While I was at the ANR, they threatened me with death if I refused to denounce Moïse Katumbi,” Tambwe said. “But I didn’t do that.”
Tambwe’s wife described her family’s situation since her husband was arrested:
I live with so many difficulties. Gabriel was the only person to support our family [financially]; I myself don’t work. When he was arrested, our youngest son was still a baby. We’ve had to move because I couldn’t pay the rent anymore. I now stay with Gabriel’s grandmother, in a very little house, in very harsh conditions. Our children get sick all the time and aren’t in school any more.
The Congolese authorities should drop all politically motivated charges and free Tambwe and the 10 others. No one should be detained for over a year merely because of alleged links to a political opposition leader.
Across the Democratic Republic of Congo, dozens of political opposition members and activists are in detention for participating in peaceful demonstrations, speaking out against election delays, criticizing government policies, or for their alleged links to opposition leaders. Many have been held in secret detention without charge or access to family or lawyers. Others have been put on trial on trumped-up charges. Many suffer regular beatings and horrendous living conditions, which have received little international attention