DRC 'condones' torture of activists: NGO report

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The Democratic Republic of Congo is condoning the torture of political and human rights activists, including the use of gang rape, beatings and electric shock treatment on detained men and women, a campaign group said Monday.

The UK-based Freedom from Torture group, which helps rehabilitate torture survivors, accused the DRC authorities of routinely detaining activists in inhumane conditions, holding them without charge and torturing them.

"Torture, including rape, is endemic in the detention system, irrespective of the detaining authority or type of detention facility," the 99-page report stated.

"Most of those who are detained, men and women alike, are raped, on multiple occasions and by multiple perpetrators. The rapes take place in a context of absolute impunity."

The report is based on 74 medical and legal files of Congolese nationals over the last five years who fled to Britain after being allegedly detained and tortured.

Physical and psychological injury

Sixty-five of the cases, men and women, said they were sexually tortured, the vast majority raped at least once, including vaginally, anally and orally.

More than half of those who were raped described episodes of gang rape, the report said, resulting in profound physical and psychological injury.

Beatings, burning with heated metal or cigarettes, positional torture, sharp force trauma such as cutting, stabbing or biting, being forced to stare at the Sun, partial asphyxiation and electric shocks were also among the methods of torture reported.

"Different branches of state security - police, military and intelligence agencies - commit torture and other human rights violations from the point of arrest, and at both official and unofficial detention sites," the report said.

"The government is not only failing to prevent torture, it is tacitly or actively condoning torture," it said.

Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa said she was not "aware" of the report and did not give an immediate response to the allegations.

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In a separate development, 17 pro-democracy campaigners, arrested in the DRC capital of Kinshasa last Thursday, have gone on hunger strike, their organisation said on Monday.

"They have been refusing to eat since Saturday. We went (to the prison) to give them food, but they refused, saying they only needed freedom," said Mephy Pongo, of the Citizens' Vigilance Movement, known by its initials in French as Vici.

Of the three woman in the group, one was suffering intense abdominal and back pains after a police officer trampled on her during her arrest, Pongo said.

Twenty-one candidates are running in the DRC's presidential elections on December 23.

The ballot is being closely watched by Western governments. The vast African nation is attempting its first peaceful transition of power since the end of Belgian colonial rule in 1960.

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