Catholic Church condemns 'barbarism' of DRC crackdown on anti-president protests

The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo has denounced what it says is a barbaric crackdown on protests against the president, as activists reported on Jan. 2 that the death toll has now climbed to 12.

(REUTERS / Lucas Jackson)Joseph Kabila Kabange, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York. September 25, 2014.

On New Year's Eve, Catholics and members of the opposition disregarded a protest ban and gathered for demonstrations to call for the resignation of DRC President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power since 2001.

Authorities resisted the anti-Kabila protests by firing bullets in the air and flooding the churches with tear gas. One AFP reporter witnessed a man being hit in the chest when soldiers fired on parishioners in Kananga.

The protest organizers' spokesperson, Jonas Tshombela, told the AFP news agency that there were 11 who died in the crackdown in Kinshasa and another one in Kananga.

While police denied the deaths were allegedly related with the crackdown, Kinshasa archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya angrily maintained that their protests were peaceful.

"We can only denounce, condemn and stigmatise the behaviour of our supposedly courageous men in uniform, who, sadly, and no more or less, are channelling barbarism," said Archbishop Pasinya.

Aside from that, DRC Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundji instructed mobile networks to suspend internet and SMS services ahead of the protests for security reasons. The services were restored on Jan. 2.

Meanwhile, the African Union Commission's chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has urged all DRC stakeholders to take concrete steps to ensure that the presidential elections push through in December 2018. His statement came after the United Nations reported that at least five were killed in the crackdown on anti-Kabila protests several days ago, The African News Agency reported.

Mahamat also highlighted the importance of bringing to light the police brutality that happened over the weekend. The AUC chairman called on all political stakeholders in the country to refrain from committing any acts and issuing statements that could worsen the situation.