King was arrested in April 2022 after he denounced on social networks the exorbitant cost ($15) charged for the purchase of land identification plates whose market value is less than this amount. This was the umpteenth denunciation by the activist, who says the army’s state of siege – supposed to restore peace and security in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri in eastern DRC – has failed. The human rights defender is known for his online opinion pieces advocating for justice and freedom.
King and his lawyer have appealed his five year penal servitude sentence and five years of ineligibility without enjoyment of his civil and political rights, as they believe the military court’s decision was disproportionate to the case against the accused. The court’s verdict was vigorously rejected by the accused and the citizens’ movements, who speak of a political trial to discourage citizen activists in their fight for democracy, peace and security in the unstable eastern region of the DR Congo.
According to King’s lawyer, Jean Luc Bahati, “We firmly believe that our client should be acquitted outright because the opinions he expressed are not liable to prosecution. As freedom of expression is guaranteed, it is inconceivable that this freedom should be muzzled in order to satisfy certain authorities, and justice should not be used as a weapon of repression.”
Hundreds of activists have been victims of political trials since 2012, says Espoir Ngalukiye, one of Lucha’s leading figures, who has already been arrested about twenty times and received various sentences. The grounds regularly used by the courts to convict citizen activists include participation in an insurrectional movement, disturbance of public order, contempt for institutions, contempt for the army, and contempt for the authorities. However, the activist says these are all fabricated offences. Ngalukiye believes the authorities find citizen activists dangerous because they oppose them without having political ambitions.
“We live in a democracy and in a democracy, freedom of expression is guaranteed. Is there no room for criticism in this country?” asked Vascos Saasita, a lawyer and human rights defender who has attended several trials of citizen activists. “Why can't we let the people express their frustration when they are obviously living in precarious situations? They don’t have access to water, peace, security and so on.” The lawyer believes that there is a gap between the theory of the separation of three powers and its practice in the DRC.
King, explained the political nature of his trial based on the context of his arrest: “Colonel Job, the police commander in Goma, told me at the time of my arrest that it was on the orders of the military governor, Constant Ndima, and the police mayor of Goma, François Kabeya, following my fierce opinions on the state of siege. At the military prosecutor’s office, there was no case against me. During the trial, the prosecutor had difficulty proving my guilt. He did not find any insult to the officers, non-commissioned officers and rank and file soldiers for me to be accused of contempt of the army.”
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