DR Congo Frees 17 Pro-Democracy Activists


Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have provisionally freed 17 pro-democracy activists who were arrested in the capital on November 1, one of the group said Monday.

“We have all been free since yesterday (Sunday) and we were granted provisional release,” Gloria Senga, head of the Citizens’ Vigilance (Vigi) movement, told AFP.

“We have been summoned to the public prosecutor’s office on Friday,” she added.

The 17 young activists, mainly students, are accused of “disturbing the peace and civil disobedience” as the vast central African country gears up for general elections on December 23.

Picked up by security forces while fulfilling a mission of “civil and electoral education”, they were jailed in Kinshasa’s central Makala prison, where they went on hunger strike to press for their release.

“They were calling on the Congolese people to vote responsibly, not out of fear,” the group’s lawyer Donald Kabasele told AFP, ahead of the start of the election campaign on Thursday.

The Congolese people will be called to elect a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled in wartime and peace since 2001 and had his mandate prolonged twice for a year.

The lawyer said the activists were not mistreated during their first experience of prison, though overall conditions are “inhuman”.

“In the cell, they couldn’t wash and they had to sleep on the floor.

“Today (Monday), they must see their doctor because the conditions of their detention were out of the ordinary,” the lawyer added.

On November 9, British NGO Freedom from Torture cast a spotlight on the DRC, declaring that the army, police and intelligence services regularly tortured political and human rights activists.

The group’s report titled “A Tool to Silence: Torture to Crush Dissent in the Democratic Republic of Congo” detailed atrocities across the country, which shares its vast mineral wealth with foreign firms but is scarred by persistent and brutal violence in several provinces.

In a report based on testimony and medical evidence from “74 men and women who escaped and fled to safety in the UK”, Freedom from Torture documented “sexual torture, burning, positional torture and electric shocks”.

“Gang rape was common: more than half of those who were raped described multiple perpetrators, while others watched. The rapes were sometimes accompanied by beating, burning and cutting to further punishment or force compliance,” the text added.

Human Right Watch (HRW), based in New York, has also reported on the “frequent use of torture” of people suspected of opposing the regime, along with systematic arrests.


Activists Condemn Craze For Wild Animal Selfies

A Florida Panther. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The craze for tourists taking selfies alongside wild animals then posting on Instagram is fueling cruel treatment of iconic species in the Amazon, activists warn.

The charity World Animal Protection said in a report that Instagram has seen a 292 percent increase in wildlife selfies since 2014 around the world. Of these, more than 40 percent involved humans “hugging or inappropriately interacting with a wild animal.”

World Animal Protection said in the report released Tuesday that the animals are captured and often battered to make them perform for tourism businesses.

“Behind the scenes, these animals are often beaten into submission, taken from their mothers as babies and secretly kept in filthy, cramped conditions or repeatedly baited with food that can have a long-term negative impact on their biology and behavior,” the group said.

“All too often, to the unsuspecting tourist, the cruelty that makes these animals submissive and available is entirely invisible.”

The practice is rife in the Amazon region, with 61 percent of the species involved listed as needing international protection by the worldwide Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species, or CITES, according to the charity.

In the Brazilian Amazon city of Manaus, for example, 18 tour companies said they offered opportunities on 94 percent of trips to “hold and touch wild animals as photo props.” The most common selfie animal there is the pink river dolphin, then three-toed sloths, caimans, green anacondas and squirrel monkeys.

“There is good reason to believe that most sloths being used for tourist selfies don’t survive even six months of this treatment,” the report said.

It listed examples of animals being kept in dire conditions for the selfie trade, including a manatee held in a small tank in front of a hotel and a giant anteater “manhandled and beaten” by its owner.

Roberto Cabral, coordinator for enforcement at the Brazilian environmental institute Ibama, told AFP that keeping animals for tourist selfies is illegal.

In comparison to the scale of illegal trafficking of animals, the problem is “minimal,” he said.

However, he also pleaded with visitors not to support the trend.

“The irony is that the tourist who usually takes photos with an animal is the same tourist who likes animals but is now contributing to that animal’s distress,” he said.


Bayelsa Indigenes Plan Protest To Seek Justice For Kokorifa’s Death

Bayelsa Teachers ProtestA massive protest is billed to take place on August 26 in Yenagoa as Youths, activists, clerics and civil organisations are proposing to protest the alleged extra-judicial killing of a 17-year-old teenager, Master Innocent Kokorifa by the police.

The victim was allegedly gunned down by the Anti-Vice/Anti-Kidnapping squad of the police on August 18 along the Airforce Road, at about 11a.m. local time.

The victim according to his mother was said to be running an errand when he was killed in mysterious circumstances by the police.

Father of the deceased, Mr Daniel Kokorifa, an officer of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), said his first child out of five children, was murdered in cold blood.

Master Kokorifa was to turn 18 years on September 9.

But the police in a statement by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr Butswat Asinim, said the victim died in a gun battle between a three-man notorious armed robbery gang and the police squad.

All arrangements by different groups of people to protest the killing under the auspices of House of Justice have been concluded.

A Niger Delta activist and former Spokesman of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide, Mr Jeremiah Owoupele told reporters in Yenagoa that the
protest was to demand justice from the police.

He described the killing of Kokorifa as unwarranted, avoidable saying it had plunged the deceased family into mourning.

He said: “We can’t even comprehend the position of the Nigerian Police Force, an agency of government whose primary responsibility is to provide security, protect lives and ensure peace in our society.

But the police have suddenly become an instrument of death.

“It is even more tragic and more painful, the pace at which the Bayelsa Police Public Relations Officer issued a statement in respect of the late juvenile, Master Kokorifa, as being a criminal whose death was as a result of gun fire exchange between the police and criminals.

“Perhaps most intriguing is the fact that when respected citizenry including legal minds, youth leaders and activists raised eyebrows over this particular death, the police in a meeting with the deceased family pleaded with them to exercise restraint and allow the police command to investigate the matter.

“This statement shows a deliberate attempt to cover up the culprits of this dastardly act. Is it not standard police practice for the police to conclude investigations before issuing a statement to the public”.

Group Seeks Special Policies To Protect Albinos

AlbinosThe National Association of People Living with Albinism has called on the government to formulate special policies that will protect albinos in the country.

Addressing a news conference in Abuja, the President of the Albino Foundation, Mr Jake Epelle said that the government should make policies that will protect albinos from discrimination and other social and economic challenges they face.

It was the first International Albinism Awareness Day celebrated in Nigeria and the organisers said that the aim was to create public awareness on the need to formulate policies that will mitigate the challenges albinos face in the society.

The forum also provided opportunity to interact with those living with albinism, listen as they relay their challenges and successes.

Health professionals and experts who specialize in caring for people living with albinism were also at the forum to provide information on how to stay healthy.

Consultant Dermatologist, Professor Ifeoma Okoye, warned that protection from direct sun-rays would help protect albinos from diseases they are most vulnerable to.

According to the Albino Foundation, there are over two million people living with albinism in Nigeria, a figure which rank the country among the highest in the world.

Statistics show that there are over 600,000 albinos in Nigeria who have suffered discrimination from peers, schoolmates and employers.

African Social Media Week Kicks Off In Lagos

The first ever Social Media Week to be held in Africa kicked off in Lagos on Monday with its first forum; “Enterprise Creative Presents: My Journey” which will be followed by a series of 17 other events holding at different centres in the metropolis today.

The event dubbed #SMWLagos, according to the official site of the event, is put together to explore how people and organizations are connecting to share new ideas and information.

The different forums are set to host thought leaders, bloggers, musicians, activists, entrepreneurs and everyday citizens from Nigeria -and throughout the continent and the diaspora.

The Full #SMWLagos daily event schedule can be found here: http://socialmediaweek.org/lagos/schedule/.

The event is produced by Dragon Africa and AFRIKA21.