Kinshasa - The United Nations expressed concern on Tuesday over a government crackdown on opponents ahead of next year's elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, warning it could "compromise the credibility" of the polls.
"Arbitrary arrests and detentions, in particular of political opponents, civil society activists or demonstrators, were a frequent means of intimidation used by the security forces to restrict freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly," the UN report said.
It documented "143 human rights violations linked to the electoral process" during the first nine months of this year, with at least 649 people arbitrarily arrested and detained.
The report, prepared by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, charged that the national intelligence agency (ANR) was primarily responsible for the arrests.
It said the violations were mainly in the provinces where opposition parties and civil society were prominent, including the provinces of Kinshasa, North and South Kivu and Eastern Kasai.
"This trend of restricting freedom of expression and violating the security of those taking a critical stance on the government's actions, indicates a shrinking of the democratic space likely to compromise the credibility of the electoral process," the report said.
Political tension has risen in the country in the last months ahead of a presidential vote due late next year which President Joseph Kabila, who has been in office since 2001, cannot contest under the current constitution.
No date has yet been set for the election, and last month Kabila said he hoped to organise a "national dialogue" aimed at reaching a wide consensus to enable "appeased elections" to go ahead.
But much of the opposition has announced it will boycott any such forum, saying it is a trap to enable Kabila to extend his constitutional stay in office beyond 2016.