- Two police officers were among the armed men who attacked Timothe Mbuya’s home earlier this month. They told his family they were going to kill him.
- Mbuya is also facing a lawsuit for defamation after publishing a report claiming that Joseph Kabila, former president of the DRC, had encroached on a protected area.
- Campaigners say both the lawsuit and the violent assault on the lawyer’s home fit a pattern of harassment of environment and human rights activists in the country.
LUBUMBASHI in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Recently, assailants attacked Timothe Mbuya’s home as a Congolese environmental lawyer. Mbuya is the head of human rights NGO Justicia and is currently fighting a defamation suit for his criticism of Joseph Kabila’s farm. While it has not yet been established who was behind the attack on Mbuya’s home, campaigners say it fits a broader pattern of harassment and intimidation of activists in Katanga province and beyond.
Jan. 12 at midnight, six men armed only with AK47s and hammers, and wearing balaclavas, smashed a large opening in the wall to gain entrance to the property in Lubumbashi. The Katanga provincial capital was where Mbuyas family, including his children and grandchildren, were sleeping.
The men threatened to kill the family members of the activists, including their 9-year-old son, if they didn’t give up the father’s location. This went on for more than an hour. Mbuya said that two of the attackers were dressed as police officers and fled with mobile phones, a notebook, and jewelry.
They repeatedly claimed that they were sent by the government to kill me, Mbuya informed Mongabay by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Mbuya said that he believes that the attack is linked to A report on encroachment in protected areasPublished by Justicia on September 2021. It included allegations that Ferme Espoir, Kabilas farm had illegally invaded Kundelungu National Park.
The anger and rage of these people, as well as the way they arrived, is evident in the [length of]Mbuya said that the couple were able to remain unaffected for the majority of the time. Mbuya said that someone might want to punish me because Kabila was humiliated during the judicial procedure.
Justicia had received numerous WhatsApp messages accusing Ferme Espoir of attacking the interests and local Katangans before the Jan. 10 defamation hearing. We could never have imagined that the day after the hearing hed be subjected to an attack of this magnitude, said Jonas Mulumba, one of Mbuya’s colleagues at the NGO.
Mulumba helped Mbuya to report the Jan. 12, assault to the Lubumbashi Military Prosecutor and filed a protection request. Mbuya was told that he would have to pay $100 per person for each officer who protected him in the DRC, where three quarters of the population lives on less than $1.90 per day.
Mongabay repeatedly asked lawyers for Ferme Espoir for comment, but they did not respond.
Campaigners face hostile climate
Justicia is not the only organization to have spoken out against Ferme Espoir’s activities in Kundelungu.
We are not the only ones who have raised the alarm about the land grabbing. [taking place]Rams Wasolela (Coordinator of the citizen movement La Voix du Peuple) told Mongabay about his work at Kundelungu National Park.
In May 2020 Wasolela was taken by three yet-unidentified persons. His disappearance was the result of a series on social media posts where he lamented the security situation in Lubumbashi and called for protest. Wasolela was detained for four days, beaten, and starved before being forced to eat food laced by an unknown substance. He said that I still haven’t fully recovered from my poisoning.
His abduction has not been linked to any arrests. Wasolela says that it is still dangerous for anyone who wants to speak out against abuses in power. The current climate in which we operate is as unstable as ever. We don’t have a say. If you criticize people in power or speak out about the management of power, or express an opinion on the treatment of human rights defenders or offer an opposing view, they will track you down and threaten you with death. Activism is not a crime.
Jean Franois Mombia Atuku is the president of RIAODRC. This umbrella group combines several dozen organizations and farmers associations from across the country. It was established in October 2020. After eight years in exile, it has now returned to the DRC. InJune 2021, he was summoned by the High Court of Kinshasa, accused of unspecified “infractions.” No plaintiff was named on the summons, which coincided with his attempts to raise awareness oftheThe Aruwimi River is being polluted by industrial activityin the country’s northeast.
Mombia claimed that commercial and political interests were using justice system to bully environmental defenders and human rights. He stated that they are now using the courts as harassment tools to harass people today, with the eyes of more international attention on DRC.
Wider significance of Kundelungu case
Justicia’s report accuses Ferme Espoir of illegally putting up fences outside its boundaries, enclosing a section of Kundelungu National Park, along with the wildlife there. The NGO’s report also highlighted the impact of local villagers growing food for themselves on vast expanses of [national park]Land village leaders claim they don’t know the Kundelungus boundaries. They also warned about the danger posed by a proposed hydroelectric dam at Upemba National Park.
The farm is a corn and poultry farm that covers 700 hectares (1 730 acres). The company owns and operates several large-scale farms around the country and is one of the DRC’s largest agribusiness players. Kabila, the president of DRC from 2001 through 2019, was also the president. It is believed to hold a stake of 80%In the company, with the remainder owned by his sons and daughters.
A commission led by Albert Massi Bamba, a military general who commands the corps responsible for securing national parks and related reserves (CorPPN), visited the Katanga farm last October to assess anthropogenic pressures in Kundelungu National Park and the situation related to the presence of Ferme Espoir … and to be clear about any invasion or encroachment.
Massi’s report, seen by Mongabay, does not make clear whether the farm, in fact, encroaches on the national park. Mongabay was able to see the report of a government official who requested anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak to media. He said that there was overlap with annexed hunting ground, which is itself problematic.
The hunting grounds, although not part of the national parks, are protected by the ICCN, Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation. Mongabay has learned that a second delegation will visit Kundelungu National Park in February to determine the exact location of the farms in relation to protected areas. The NGO Civil Society, Environmental and Agro-Rural Congo has also protested against human pressures on Kundelungu. Josu, the president of SOCEARUCO, has been closely watching the events of the last week. He said the farm’s lawyers should have sued all of Ferme Espoir’s critics, not just Mbuya and Justicia.
He said that we are all working together to ensure that the country behaves in an environmentally responsible manner.
“Many of us have interpreted these events the defamation lawsuit and the attack on Mbuya’s home as a way to scare environmental defenders into submission and silence, Aruna told Mongabay.
“We can’t claim to be a climate change solutions country whilst allowing the ongoing theft of protected areas which, be it between pan-national and/or foreign operators, is an issue everywhere in DRC, he told Mongabay. If the courts end up finding in favor of Ferme Espoir, we’ll be left with no option but toconsider that all protected areas that have been thus legally classified, will be open to a similar fate.
Aruna described the attack on Mbuya’s home as “a knee-jerk reaction” borne out of frustration. With regards to Ferme Espoir, Monday’s hearing [Jan. 10]The poor judicial foundation exposed a weakness and put the farm in a difficult position. [the farms supporters]Other ways to demonstrate their strength.
From a safehouse, Mbuya said that while the attack has left him fearing for his family’s safety, he will not be silenced: Its imperative that we react appropriately and that justice is seen to be done. It will discourage other activists. [from speaking out]Not only in Lubumbashi, it’s all across the country.
Mbuya encouraged his colleagues to find strength and pride in the incident. It shows that we’re working efficiently and that people are getting the help they need.
Open letter signed by hundreds from NGOs calling for an end of illegal activities in DRCs Protected Areas
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