Kinshasa - The Democratic Republic of Congo's Supreme Court on Monday ordered the release of three prominent pro-democracy leaders held for more than a year for opposing a fresh term for veteran President Joseph Kabila.
Tensions have been growing in mineral-rich but troubled DRC over fears that Kabila, in power since 2001, may try to extend his rule with a third term, beyond the constitutional maximum of two.
"The court has decided to release Christopher Ngoy because his arrest and detention were absolutely illegal and ordered the temporary release of Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala," their lawyer Joseph Mukendi Wa Mulumba said.
But another defence lawyer Tony Lubamba said the "charges have not been dropped".
"We will continue to fight to ensure that every Congolese can express himself without fear," Ngoy said after the hearing.
Ngoy is a civil society leader and human rights activist involved in mobilising public participation in demonstrations against proposed changes to the electoral law and was arrested in January last year.
Bauma is a leading member of a group named Indignant Youths Battling for Change (LUCHA) while Makwambala is affiliated to the Filimbi ("whistle" in Swahili) outfit. Both have been in detention since March 15 last year.
Talk of Kabila hanging on beyond the expiry of his second term on December 20 has whipped up fresh tension in the country of 71 million people.
Protests erupted after the Constitutional Court ruled in May that Kabila, who took power after his father's assassination, could remain in office in a caretaker capacity beyond the end of the mandate.
The government has called for a "national dialogue" and former Togo premier Edem Kodjo has been named by the African Union as the talks' "facilitator."