April 16, 2015 / 9:48 AM / 3 years ago

Congo illegally detained, tortured pro-democracy activists: HRW

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Security forces in Democratic Republic of Congo have illegally detained and tortured pro-democracy advocates as part of a crackdown before a presidential election next year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.

As many as 40 activists, musicians and journalists were arrested in the capital Kinshasa on March 15 during a news conference organized by Congolese and West African campaigners to promote youth participation in politics.

The government says the organizers were teaching armed insurrection. A security source told Reuters that investigators are probing the financing of the event.

Three activists remain in the custody of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), though they have not been charged or given access to a lawyer, as required by Congolese law, the U.S. rights campaigner said in a statement.

Intelligence agents and police in the eastern city of Goma also arrested members of the group Struggle for Change (Lucha) who peacefully protested the Kinshasa detentions.

Four Lucha members arrested on April 7 are being held in Goma’s central prison on charges of inciting disobedience to public authority, HRW said.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende referred questions about the report to the prosecutor-general, who did not respond to a request for comment.

The political climate is tense in Congo ahead of a presidential election scheduled for late next year when President Joseph Kabila’s mandate is set to expire.

Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Daniel Flynn/Jeremy Gaunt

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