Three University of Kinshasa students, Joel Bukuru, Giresse and Leon Nguwa Bagombisa could be condemned to the slammer for years, after their trial for ‘insulting the Head of State’ opened on Friday in Kinshasa.
The three have already spent eight and a half months in detention after their arrest on March 28.
Aged between 22 and 24 years, these supporters of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) were arrested for calling for support of the leader of the opposition party, Vital Kamerhe, a former ally of President Joseph Kabila.
They were held incommunicado at the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) and were transferred to the central prison in Kinshasa on December 15 after their indictment by the prosecutor.
During the first hearing, the defense lawyers denounced the continued detention of their clients by National Intelligence Agency (ANR), while the Constitution provides that no one shall be held in custody more than 48 hours.
The hearing was adjourned to January 29.
The political climate has been tense for months in the DRC ahead of the presidential poll in November in which Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, cannot contest under the current constitution.
The opposition said Kabila wants to delay the presidential election in November so as to extend his stay in office.
The president has called for a “national dialogue” to help ensure ‘peaceful elections’, but the opposition said it is a ploy to get around the constitution and stand for a third elected five-year term.
On Tuesday, nearly 5,000 people demonstrated in the eastern city of Bukavu, a UNC stronghold, demanding the elections be held this year. However in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, police prevented opposition gatherings.
The opposition, the UN and various human rights organizations have denounced the repressive policies of the Congolese authorities.