A hospital founded by an award-winning gynaecologist to treat rape victims has accused the Congolese government of hounding it after tax authorities seized its accounts.

Denis-MukwegeDr Denis Mukwege, pictured in 2008, chatting with patients at the Panzi hospital, which he founded in 1999

Panzi hospital in Bukavu, set up in 1999 by Dr Denis Mukwege, said it could no longer withdraw money or pay December wages to its 500 employees.

Mukwege survived an assassination attempt in 2012 and recently spoke out about insecurity and bad governance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has failed to lift millions out of poverty despite vast mineral resources.

Authorities have slapped a $50,000 (£32,095) monthly tax on the hospital. Patient Bashombe, a lawyer for the facility, said it had been accused of tax evasion even though “no public hospital in DRC has ever paid tax”. He accused the authorities of hounding it, adding: “Seizing the hospital’s accounts is illegal.”

Dr Désiré Alumeti, who works at the hospital, said: “We do not understand this singling out, which appears to aim to stifle the Panzi hospital and the invaluable work we are doing for the Congolese people. We need a viable explanation from the authorities. It is abnormal that Panzi hospital is the only public hospital in Congo to have its accounts seized by the government.”

Dozens of hospital workers with banners calling on the government to “Free our money” and “Stop hounding Panzi hospital” staged a sit-in on Wednesday outside the tax office in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province. Ruger Buhendwa, who was among them, said his family had not been able to celebrate Christmas because his salary had not been paid. “Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, will be the same,” he told Agence France-Presse.

The Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende refused to comment on the case, saying it was a judicial rather than a political matter.

Mukwege, 59, is the founder and medical director of the Panzi hospital, where he and his staff have helped to treat more than 30,000 survivors of sexual violence by militias in the country’s volatile east. He has been described as the world’s leading expert on repairing injuries of rape, and has criticised the government’s failure to end impunity for attackers.

His work has earned numerous international awards including the UN human rights prize, King Baudouin Africa development prize, African of the year, Olof Palme prize and Clinton global citizen award, while the Carter Foundation has named him a “citizen of the world”. He has also been nominated for the Nobel peace prize.

In November, receiving the European parliament’s Sakharov prize, he said: “Our country is sick but, together with our friends around the world, we can and will heal.”

Vava Tampa, founder of the UK-based pressure group Save the Congo, said: “This is part of a pattern of harassment against Dr Mukwege, and part of a wider onslaught against human rights defenders, journalists and opposition activists in Congo.”

You may also like

Read Next