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Opposition Leader in Court in Central African Republic

Detention in Police Premises Notorious for Abuse Sends Chilling Message to Critics

Crepin Mboli Goumba (right) with his defense team after he is provisionally released from the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) in Bangui, Central African Republic, March 6, 2024. © 2024 Private

“They held him there to send a message to the rest of us: be careful, or else.” A human rights activist from the Central African Republic said this to Human Rights Watch after Crépin Mboli Goumba, a prominent political opponent, was arrested and sent to a police unit notorious for torture, executions, and shooting suspects on sight.

On March 3, Mboli Goumba was arrested on charges of contempt of court after a press conference during which he accused four judges and the minister of justice of corruption, offering documentation to support his accusations and asking authorities to investigate.

Instead of a police station in the city, Mboli Goumba was taken to the headquarters of the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (Office Central de Répression du Banditisme, OCRB), a police unit created in the late 1990s to address a rise in banditry that developed a notorious reputation for abuse. In 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report outlining how members of the OCRB unlawfully executed at least 18 people and possibly more between April 2015 and March 2016.

For the past two years the Central African Republic’s ruling party, the United Hearts Movement (Mouvement Cœurs Unis) and its supporters have waged a crackdown on civil society, media, and the political opposition. Since the idea for a constitutional referendum to remove presidential term limits first surfaced in 2022, governmental institutions, including police, have threatened civil society advocates, accused them of collaborating with armed groups, and prevented opposition protests.

Mboli Goumba was not mistreated at the OCRB, but if convicted, he could face up to 2 years in prison. He told Human Rights Watch that OCRB officials said his case was “tied to politics.”

Mboli Goumba was provisionally released on March 6 and had his first appearance in court last week. While the trial was postponed for a week, his initial detention at the OCRB sends a clear message: tough times lie ahead for opponents and critics.



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