At least 27 anti-government protesters were killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo earlier this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Thursday.
According to the organization, supporters of Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), a religious-political sect, trooped out to the streets of Kinshasa and Kongo Central province on Monday to protest President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down after serving two terms, as mandated by the constitution.
Eyewitnesses said protesters began marching through the streets in Kinshasa and several parts of Kongo Central, including the provincial capital, Matadi, at around 9 a.m. on Monday. They wore red bandanas and held sticks and palm nut husks while chanting anti-Kabila slogans.
Police, claiming that the protesters were armed and dangerous, then fired live ammunition upon several crowds. According to HRW, 25 people, including two police officers, were killed in Kinshasa while at least two protesters in Kongo Central were killed.
Among the 25 killed in Kinshasa, ten were bystanders.
HRW reports that the protests were likely prompted by an ultimatum issued by BDK leader Ne Muanda Nsemi in June in which he called on “the Rwandans and President Kabila” to leave the DRC by August 7.
Sources close security agencies in the central African country told the human rights organization that DRC authorities allowed the protests to unfold in order to create chaos, which would give the Kabila government an excuse to further postpone the election.
The DRC was scheduled to hold a presidential election in November 2016 with Mr. Kabila’s second term expiring in December 2016. However, the electoral commission said it could not hold elections till early 2018, allegedly due to issues with the voter registration system.
The commission has yet to schedule a new date for the poll.
Joseph Kabila has served as president of the DRC since 2001. He was appointed president at the age of 29, ten days after his father, President Laurent Kabila, was assassinated by one of his body guards.