56 people injured and 158 detained, including religious sect leader, says government
At least 43 people were killed and 56 others injured in anti-UN protests this week in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the government announced Thursday, as rights groups accused the army of targeted shootings of civilians.
The victims were reportedly killed after the army raided a crowd of a religious sect called Natural Judaic and Messianic Faith Towards the Nations that had gathered to protest against the presence in the country of the UN peacekeeping force known as MONUSCO and regional forces from countries of the East African Community bloc.
The incident occurred on Wednesday in the eastern city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
The authorities had banned the protests organized by the religious sect, which called themselves “Wazalendo,” or “Patriots,” which the military accused of sowing chaos.
The gathering “carried out actions that undermined public order, including stoning to death a member of the police, thus leading to police intervention to restore tranquility and serenity in the city,” the government statement said.
“According to the military and medical reports, the death toll stands at 43, with 56 wounded.”
It said 20 victims were treated at separate hospitals while 158 people, including the leader of the sect, Ephraim Bisimwa, were apprehended.
The government also said it had launched investigations into the incident and suspects would soon be prosecuted.
Separately, Human Rights Watch in a statement called on the authorities to immediately grant family members access to the victims and “hold responsible senior military officials who ordered the use of unlawful lethal force.”
“Congolese military forces appear to have fired into a crowd to prevent a demonstration, an extremely callous as well as unlawful way to enforce a ban,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“For two years, the military authorities have used the ‘state of siege’ – martial law – in North Kivu province to brutally crack down on fundamental liberties.”
Thousands of people in the two most conflict-affected eastern DR Congo provinces of North Kivu and Ituri live in camps.
Congolese perceive the UN peacekeepers as failing to protect residents.
In 2022, deadly protests broke out against the United Nations peacekeeping force in Goma.
UN peacekeepers have been in North Kivu province since 1999, while the East African regional force is also stationed in Goma with a mandate to quell violence.