MAC/20: Mines and Communities

DR Congo human rights activist imprisoned for exposing alleged mining scam

Published by MAC on 2009-09-29

A leading human rights activist and critic of mining has been sent to prison in the DR Congo, accused of posing a threat to state security.

Golden Misabiko, president of ASADHO-Katanga, alleged that uranium was being illegally extracted by artisanal miners from the huge Shinkolobwe deposit.

According to three international NGOs, behind Mr Misabiko's persecution is the not-so-hidden hand of the Congolese miltary, intent on securing a lucrative rake-off from the mining operations.

The Shinkolobwe mine was conceded to French mining giant, AREVA, earlier this year. ASADHO-Katanga had questioned the terms under which the concession was granted, while urging the company to guarentee protection for local people and the environment within it.

Global Witness dismayed at clampdown on activists in Katanga

Global Witness Press release

25 September 2009

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should ensure that the frivolous charges against Congolese human rights activist, Golden Misabiko, are dropped immediately, said campaign group Global Witness today.

Misabiko, president of the Association africaine de défense des droits de l'homme - Katanga (ASADHO-Katanga) in Katanga province, was sentenced to four months in detention and eight months' suspended prison sentence on 23 September.

Misabiko was arrested on 24 July 2009 by the Agence nationale de renseignements (ANR), the national intelligence agency, in the provincial capital Lubumbashi. He was charged with "threatening state security" [atteinte à la sûreté de l'Etat] and defamation. He was released on bail on 20 August.

Misabiko's arrest was a response to the publication of a report by ASADHO-Katanga on the Shinkolobwe uranium mine. The report alleged that state institutions and officials were profiting from illegal mining; it also criticised the lack of transparency surrounding an agreement between the DRC government and the French nuclear company AREVA, which granted AREVA exploration and mining rights to the site.

"The arrest, detention and now the sentence imposed on Golden Misabiko can only be seen as part of a concerted attack against activists reporting on abuses in the mining sector in Katanga," said Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness.

In a further alarming development, four other human rights activists, who have campaigned for Misabiko's release, have received deaths threats on at least two occasions in the past week.

Timothée Mbuya (Vice President of ASADHO-Katanga), Emmanuel Umpula Nkumba (Executive Director of Action contre l'impunité pour les droits humains), and Grégoire Mulamba (Executive Secretary of the Centre des Droits de l'Homme et du Droit Humanitaire), received anonymous death threats by text messages, warning them "you will be next" and "once you are dead, you will be unable to organise any more marches".

Threats were also made against a fourth person, Dominique Munongo, head of the Centre de développement pour la femme.

"These persistent attempts to silence activists in Katanga show that the Congolese government does not want transparency in the mining sector," said Patrick Alley.

Golden Misabiko has campaigned on human rights and transparency for many years in Katanga. He has been intimidated, arrested and detained several times previously in relation to his work.

Other activists in Katanga, particularly those who have denounced fraud, corruption and other abuses in the mining sector, have also been arrested and threatened repeatedly over the past several years.


KATANGA BRIEFING

Global Witness

24 September 2009

CONVICTION OF GOLDEN MISABIKO, AND THREATS AGAINST FOUR OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS - A SIGNAL THAT THE MINING INTERESTS OF THE DRC'S POLITICAL AND MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT ARE "OFF LIMITS".

Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), which closely monitors human rights in the Congolese mining sector, expressed its profound concern about the conviction of Golden Misabiko, the 53-year-old President of the Katangan branch of the Association

africaine de defense des droits de l'homme, ASADHO-Katanga, a respected Congolese human rights organization. Mr Misabiko was charged with "propagation de faux bruits" (spreading of false information) which purportedly constitute "a threat to the internal security of the state" (« atteinte à la sûreté interne de l'Etat ») under article 199 bis of the Congolese Criminal Code. On 23 September 2009, a Lubumbashi court sentenced Mr Misabiko in absentia to four months in detention with a further eight-month suspended prison term. Mr Misabiko's lawyers are expected to lodge an appeal.

Mr Misabiko was first arrested in July 2009 after the publication by ASADHO-Katanga of a report entitled, « Mine uranifère de Shinkolobwe: d'une exploitation artisanale illicite à l'accord entre la RD Congo et le groupe nucléaire français AREVA ». The report, published on 13 July 2009, alleged that minerals from the Shinkolobwe uranium mine, despite a formal ban, were being exploited. The report claimed that the trade was controlled by senior figures in the Congolese Armed Forces (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, FARDC). The FARDC have a military camp, Camp Moura, adjacent to the Shinkolobwe concession. ASAHDO's report referred to an incident in early February 2008 in which a FARDC Captain and soldiers from Moura Camp kidnapped a group of military policemen, who had come to investigate the illegal exploitation of minerals from Shinkolobwe.

Lieutenant Ngalamulume, an official of the Likasi military prosecution service, was shot dead while attempting to free his colleagues.

The Military Prosecutor (Auditeur Militaire) in Likasi filed a report to his commanding officers about the incident (RAID has had sight of the prosecutor's report).

In April 2009, ASADHO had called upon the French company to provide assurances that it would take steps to protect communities and the environment near its sites. ASAHDO's report also called for clarification of the terms of the agreement signed in March 2009, during a visit by President Sarkozy to the DRC, between the Congolese government and France's state-controlled nuclear energy group Areva (CEPFi.PA) to prospect and mine uranium in Katanga, including the Shinkolobwe. Both the DRC and French governments are members of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

In August 2009, Amnesty International, Global Witness, Protection International and RAID called on the Congolese authorities to withdraw all criminal charges against Mr Misabiko.

According to RAID, the proceedings did not conform to international standards for a fair trial. At the time of his arrest, the authorities in Katanga had neither seen nor read a copy of ASAHDO's report and so had no legitimate grounds to detain him. According to Samentha Goethals, a RAID staff member, who observed the hearing on 26 August 2009, Mr Misabiko, whose health is poor, was put under intense pressure by the Court to disclose his informants. The court disallowed information from other sources, which might have corroborated ASADHO's allegations. The main evidence used against Mr Misabiko - a report of a DRC official Commission of Inquiry (sent by the Kinshasa Government to Shinkolobwe after the release of ASADHO's report) - was not disclosed to the defence lawyers.

While the more serious charge of treason was dropped, RAID is nonetheless concerned about the sentence handed down by the Lubumbashi Magistrate's Court (Tribunal de Paix). The sentence is a violation of the right to freedom of expression and seems to be intended as a warning to Congolese human rights defenders not to overstep the mark.

The Kinshasa authorities have not objected to NGO criticism of other companies like First Quantum Minerals (FQM) and Freeport McMoran. Last week, following the cancellation of its contract for the Kingamyambo Musonoi Tailings project (KMT), FQM's newly constructed copper and cobalt processing plant in Kolwezi was seized by the Provincial Attorney General and its workforce were ordered to leave. FQM has declared 'force majeure' and is expected to take the case to international arbitration.

"The harsh treatment of Mr Misabiko and the threats against the other NGOs is a warning that they shouldn't meddle in mining activities in which members of the political and military elite are implicated," said Patricia Feeney, RAID's Director."

Mr Misabiko was released on bail on Thursday 20 August on medical grounds. While in custody he developed severe abdominal and chest pains. He is currently receiving medical treatment.

"It is clear from the medical reports from the Polyclinique Medicare, the private clinic which treated him, and from my own personal observation of Mr Misabiko, whom I visited at the end of August, that he is not in a fit mental or physical state to withstand more months in detention" said Samentha Goethals.

In recent days, three other prominent human rights activists, who had organized protests about Mr Misabiko's detention and trial, have received anonymous telephone death threats.

Emmanuel Umpula Nkumba (Executive Director of Action contre l'impunité pour les droits humains, ACIDH and OECD Watch), Grégoire Mulamba (Executive Secretary of the Centre des Droits de l'Homme et du Droit Humanitaire, CDH) and Timothée Mbuya (Vice President of ASADHO-Katanga) were warned that 'they would be next' and that 'once they were dead they'd be unable to organize any more marches'. The telephone calls were made from two numbers, which should be easy to trace. Some messages contained indirect threats against a fourth person, Madame Dominique Munongo, a member of the Royal Sanga family and head of the Centre de développement pour la femme, a Lubumbashi-based NGO working for women's rights. [Mme Munongo is the daughter of the Traditional Chief of the Bayeke, leader of the southern Katangan, Sanga tribe. He was a Minister in the short-lived, secessionist government set up by Moise Tshombe in Katanga - formely Shaba - at independence. Her brother is a Senator in the ruling Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et la Démocratie,PPRD] The anonymous callers also mocked the NGOs for relying on the UN for protection.

According to artisanal miners interviewed by RAID in August 2009 in Likasi, the town nearest to the Shinkolobwe mine, the exploitation of uranium-rich minerals has declined over the past year. In part, this is due to a clamp-down by the authorities on the purchase by trading houses of minerals, which have a significant radioactive content.

Traders have been given Geiger counters to measure the level of radioactivity. Even so the clandestine trade continues allegedly carried out by soldiers from Moura camp.

The threats against the human rights defenders have continued and become more aggressive. On 18 September, the  three NGO activists received renewed threats immediately after they had held a press conference, which was widely reported on local television and radio stations. On 21 September 2009, they received text messages warning them that they and Dominique Munongo had 48 hours to get out of Lubumbashi. According to the NGOs, to date the authorities have taken no effective action either to track down or apprehend those responsible for the threats despite their having been given the mobile phone numbers that the calls and texts were made from.

There are other signs of mounting tensions in Katanga. On 10 September 2009, the Provincial Minister of Mines, Juvenal Kitungwa, was detained by agents of the Congolese intelligence services (Agence nationale des renseignements, ANR) allegedly on the orders of the President's mother, Maman Sifa. The Minister's body guards had allegedly seriously assaulted an individual, who had falsely claimed to be an official from the Land Registry (Cadastre Foncier) and had illegally distributed plots of land. Some of the buildings constructed on these unauthorized plots allegedly belong to members of the President's family. It was reported that Juvenal Kitungwa would be transferred to Kinshasa for prosecution.

Since July 2009, there has been a growing intolerance to any perceived criticism of the Kinshasa Government and its circle.

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