In a controversial ruling, a high court in the Democratic Republic of Congo has sentenced presidential candidate Jean-Marc Kabund to seven years in prison.
The judgement comes as a result of Kabund being found guilty on 12 charges, which include spreading false rumours and insulting the head of state, President Felix Tshisekedi.
Kabund, who was a former vice president of parliament and a close associate of President Tshisekedi, had launched his own political party after the two had a falling out.
The incarceration originated from an incident in August 2022 when Kabund was arrested following a speech in which he referred to President Tshisekedi as a “danger” and criticised his government. Since his arrest, Kabund has been held in Kinshasa’s main prison, awaiting the verdict.
His lawyer, Kadi Diko, confirmed the sentencing, indicating that Kabund had received four months for each of the first nine offences and 16 months for the remaining three. The most serious charges involved “spreading false rumours” and “contempt for the head of state and parliament.” Diko expressed dismay over the severity of the ruling, emphasising that there is no chance for appeal.
Although not present during the judgement, Kabund defended himself during a previous hearing, where he repeated his earlier remarks. Expressing concern for the country under President Tshisekedi’s leadership, Kabund had called on the people to take action to exclude the president from the upcoming elections.
The imprisonment of a presidential candidate raises numerous questions about freedom of speech and political rights in DR Congo. The ruling has drawn criticism from human rights organisations and sparked concerns about the state of democracy in the country. By sentencing Kabund to such a lengthy prison term, the court has sent a strong message regarding the consequences of criticising the head of state.
The verdict casts a shadow over the upcoming elections in DR Congo. With Kabund being an influential figure and a potential candidate, his absence from the political scene will undoubtedly impact the democratic process.
The imprisonment of a prominent political figure could also have broader implications for political dissent and discourse in the country. If individuals are silenced for expressing their opinions, it raises concerns about the ability of the population to hold their leaders accountable and participate fully in the democratic process.
DR Congo is scheduled to hold a general election on December 20th, and it is anticipated that President Tshisekedi will seek re-election.
However, there have been increasing political tensions leading up to the vote. Unfortunately, in July, an opposition spokesperson was tragically killed in the capital city of Kinshasa, and opposition parties have held violent demonstrations to protest irregularities in voter registration.
Recently, Mr. Kabund, who had announced his intention to run for president as the leader of the “Alliance for Change” party, was sentenced by the Court of Cassation, one of Congo’s highest courts, which does not allow appeals.
While the presidency is not involved in this case and cannot comment on it, we remain committed to ensuring a peaceful and fair election process for all Congolese citizens.