"Intimidation, arrests, and killings are not things that will stop us." These are the words of Serge Sivya, an activist and spokesman of the Congolese pro-democracy youth movement, Lutte pour le Changement (Struggle For Change, Lucha), as the death toll in the Congolese election crisis rose to 26.
The Lucha, which emerged in Goma, the capital of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in June 2012, is one of the citizen coalitions that had been urging Joseph Kabila to step down after his mandate expired at midnight on Monday (19 December), as stated in the constitution.
The organisation's members, who refuse to take arms, affirm the need to take action through critical popular mobilisation.
Despite its spirit, this movement has seen its actions repressed – with the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), for instance, intercepting its actions and a number of LUCHA's members across its 16 regional offices have suffered arrests, illegal detentions and been physically attacked for asking the authorities to end repression against dissenting voices.
"We will not accept that our country may be ruled unconstitutionally. We carried out this action this morning, and will continue our actions to tell Kabila that his mandate came to an end. Until he relinquishes power, we will continue. It is a question of principle: the fight Lucha is leading is a higher purpose," Sivya exclusively told IBTimes UK over the phone.
"Intimidation, arrests, and killings are not things that will stop us, because we started this struggle to ensure that our children can inherit of a more just, prosperous and democratic Congo."
This pledge came minutes after 18 Lucha activists were arrested by the police on Wednesday (21 December) morning in Goma. Sivya explained: "They were tied up and taken to the headquarters of the Police Investigation unit."
Rebecca Kabugho among group arrested
Lucha revealed the identity of the 18 activists who were arrested: Oswald kulimushi, André Batundi, Rodrigue Kyamwami, Alvin Bendera, Gloire Mwanzavalere, Amitié Muhindo, William Bahati, Pascal Muhindo Hercule Biringetse, Paulin Mahamba, Patrick Djuma, Shimi Bahati, Mubalama Kitungu, Parfait Muhani, Luc Nkulula, Juvin Kombi, Claudia Chuma, Espoir Muyisa and Antipas Mumbere.
Among the group, was also 21-year-old Rebecca Kabugho, who became one of the youngest female prisoners of conscience in the world after she was arrested and jailed in February this year.
Gautier Misonia, Kabugho's brother, confirmed Rebecca's arrest, as she was singing songs of resistance. "She and dozens of other Lucha activists had wanted to organise a sit-in this morning in front of the governorate offices, to demand the departure of President Kabila. It's during this sit-in that she was arrested," Misonia told IBTimes UK. "The security forces embarked them in three police jeeps, and drove them towards an unknown destination."
Misonia confirmed that no formal charges were pressed against his sister, described by many as an "inspiration". "We don't know what charges they may hold against her. We'll know what will happen to her before the end of the day."
In February, Rebecca was arrested in her sleep and tortured. Her crime: to have prepared banners calling for the respect of the constitution and reminding the Congolese that, as the nation unpredictably won the football cup, so too could they win the battle of democracy and alternation of political parties in government.
Kabugho was pardoned on 22 July after spending over five months in prison. The young woman and her fellow activists fit the United Nations definition of persons who have been imprisoned for holding political, religious or other conscientiously-led beliefs, a prisoner of conscience is not tolerated by the state/regime in which they reside. They are detained despite never having used, nor advocated, violence.