Seven Congolese activists, who were arrested during a demonstration in the Ituri Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Wednesday (27 July), were still held on Thursday, local civil society has warned.

Four activists from the youth activist group Lutte pour Le Changement (LUCHA) and three activists from the pro-democracy group Filimbi were arrested by the powerful government intelligence agency (Agence Nationale des Renseignements, ANR) on Wednesday morning as they attended a march. All participated in the opposition movement Front Citoyen 2016 (Citizen Front 2016) in Ituri.

The Governor of the province of Ituri, Abdallah Penembaka and the Mayor of Bunia, Ferdinand Fimbo, had called the march "to support the (national) dialogue and the registration of voters" ahead of the controversial upcoming elections in the country.

The Congolese people are expecting presidential elections in November 2016, but a number of signs appear to suggest that the current president, Joseph Kabila, is seeking to hold on to power beyond his mandate. Under the current Congolese constitution, presidents can only serve a maximum of two terms.

This comes five days after President Joseph Kabila on 22 July signed pardon orders allowing the release of a number of individuals from prison, including six members of the LUCHA.

François Nkuna Balumuene, ambassador of the DRC to the United States explained the reasons behind the pardons: "These actions (pardons) were motivated by a desire to create a climate of confidence and national cohesion in the DRC as we work toward a national and inclusive political dialogue."

Arrested 'for carrying banners'

According to a LUCHA spokesman, the activists were arrested for carrying banners calling for Kabila to step down after his constitutionally mandated two-term limit ends in December 2016.

"During the march, our comrades who were not happy with the authorities' remarks degrading the constitution and praising Kabila - using "Wumela" (lingala for "Stay for a longtime", or "reign") a term used by Kabila's supporters - decided to get their own messages out on which we could read: "Yes to the dialogue, but in the respect of the Constitution", he explained in a statement.

The group alleged Governor Penembaka "immediately" ordered the arrest of the seven activists - including two women - at 10:00 local time (09:00 GMT). "They were taken to the ANR (headquarters) with great brutality," the spokesman said, claiming one of the activists, Luc Malembe, had been "tortured".

Activists arrested in Bunia, DRC
The activists sat in the men's cell at the Prosecutor's office after their arrest in Bunia, DRC, on 27 July. Front to back, left to right: David Ngabu (far left) Luc Malembe (white sleeveless shirt, middle), and Eugene Baminday (right). Joseph Ubegiu is seen in the back, wearing a black T-shirt.Lucha RDCongo

'Unclear' accusations, claims LUCHA

Later in the afternoon, they were taken to the Prosecutor's office, and were not able to see their lawyers before then, LUCHA claimed.

"It is still unclear which offence the prosecution accuses them of, because they obviously have not committed any crime," the spokesman said.

"Lucha denounces yet another act of unjustifiable repression by the authorities, when they claim to want to defuse the political climate in order to give a chance for an open and sincere dialogue to get the country out of the current impasse.

"It is incomprehensible that on one hand it signed orders for the release of those arrested unjustly, and on the other hand, it arrests others as equally unjustly, simply for peacefully demanding the respect of Constitution".

LUCHA, which has posted contact details on social media, has encouraged supporters to call both the Mayor of Bunia and Governor of Ituri to ask for the release of the seven activists.

IBTimes UK could not reach the Governor for comment at the time of publication.