On December 31, 58-year-old parishioner Huguette Bonsonge joined her fellow from St Joseph church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital, Kinshasa to take part in protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down from office.
The police had banned the demonstrations and said that all gatherings of more than five people would be dispersed to ensure public order.
The United Nations peacekeepers said the security forces killed at least seven people. The government said five people were killed in unrelated incidents.
We were really brutalised, with children, the police brutalised us so much. I fell into the gutter. The children from the church came to help me out and we started running.
Bonsonge said she was singing hymns with other parishioners when police fired teargas and was injured as she fled.
“We were really brutalised, with children, the police brutalised us so much. I fell into the gutter. The children from the church came to help me out and we started running as the police fired tear gas. There was even one policeman who came in front of me and told me to throw away my white scarf but I refused,” she added.
Father Jean, from the church told pan-African French magazine – Jeune Afrique, that police fired live bullets at protesters who tried to march peacefully after the sermon.
“We don’t want to get involved in this game between the majority and the opposition. That’s not our business. For us it is the people, because we live the day to day of the people as pastors. Their anxiety, their hopes are ours. We carry them and as Pope Francis says we want to be the pastors that honour their flock, that touch the reality of life of our people and with them to lead the struggle so as to get out of this deplorable situation,” said Father Vincent.
Catholic activists had called for protests after Sunday worship, one year after Kabila committed to holding an election to choose his successor by the end of 2017.
The delay has fuelled suspicions that Kabila will try to remove constitutional term limits that forbid him to run again, as presidents in neighbouring countries have done.
“The government is also satisfied with the Congolese people’s sense of responsibility. They have lost confidence in the agitators who planned to destabilise our country for interests that are not ours,” said Lambert Mende, Government Spokesperson and Minister of media and Communication.
Under an agreement on December 31 2016, Kabila was permitted to stay in office beyond the expiry of his mandate but required to step down after an election to be held in 2017.
Instead, Congo’s electoral commission said later that the election could not be organized until December 2018.