DRC enters ‘a bloody dictatorship’
A picture taken through a window shows supporters of the opposition party UDPS carrying the coffin of a militant in Kinshasa, on 31 October 2016, after the bodies of six others from the Congolese opposition party, who were burnt in arson attacks during the night of 19 September 2016 at the party's headquarters, were released from the morgue Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

As the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) teeters on the brink of a major crisis, IBTimes UK has received first-hand accounts from prominent members of the political opposition, whose homes have been attacked as the government steadily escalates what has been branded a "campaign of intimidation".

President Joseph Kabila will stay in power beyond the two-term limit set by the constitution, Barnabé Kikaya Bin Karubi, the chief diplomatic adviser to the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has said, according to reports.

Kabila has been in power since 2001 and served two full terms, as permitted by the Congolese constitution. His mandate expires on 19 December 2016 and he is barred from seeking a third term in office, but Kabila has been accused of manoeuvring to ensure he can remain in power indefinitely.

The DRC has endured one of the bloodiest civil wars in modern times and faces a fateful moment later this month when he is due to stand down.

DRC enters ‘a bloody dictatorship’
A soldier patrols under a billboard on 22 May 2016 in Lubumbashi. It reads: 'Let's talk for the good of the Congo' Junior Kannah/AFP/Getty Images

Fear and intimidation in the DRC

Opposition figures Gabriel Kyungu (the president of Rassemblement in Katanga) and father and son duo Charles and Christian Mwando have all had their properties vandalised.

No arrests have been made, but in an exclusive interview, Kyungu alleged that the government was behind the attack. "It's the regime of Kabila that is organising to engage in what we call 'state terrorism' [against political opponents like us]," he said.

DRC opposition leader's property attacked as political violence surges IBTimes UK

Kyungu's home came under siege in the early hours of Wednesday (30 November) morning. He claimed a group of men tried to enter the compound and attack him.

The attackers were confronted by his security guards, who prevented them from scaling the wall. "Because they failed to enter my house, they set fire to my front door, using tires and petrol," said Kyungu. The flames, which engulfed the entrance, had to be extinguished by authorities.

The attacks are not isolated incidents, but form part of a wider campaign of fear as Kabila seeks to tighten his grip on power. Kyungu said: "[These incidents] have become common since 19 September – when the regime killed protesters in Kinshasa. And the regime is letting it happen.

"As political opponents, we no longer have the right to be safe and be secured by the state. Not only are people from Katanga oppressed, it's the entire population of the republic that is oppressed by the regime. Each time we want to organise a demonstration anywhere, in all the provinces, the regime in place summons the heavily armed army to attack the population."

On 19 November, just days before the attack on Kyungu's compound, Christian Mwando's home was targeted after he left in defiance of a government ban on demonstrations to "counter this restriction to freedom".

Covert footage shows a crowd chanting outside the home of DRC opposition member, Christian Mwando IBTimes UK

"At the moment when I was going back home, I received a phone call from my wife telling me she had sought refuge in the corridor of our home with the children. The house was attacked by a group of people who, at the moment when she was speaking to me, were smashing down all the windows with rocks," he said.

Fearing for his family's safety, Christian alerted both the police and Monusco, the UN's largest and most complex peacekeeping operation. But this was not the end of the terrifying ordeal for the Mwando family.

He estimates that up to 100 attackers "armed with machetes and batons" had congregated around his home chanting war songs.

They were unable to gain entry into his compound as the guards had closed the gates.

"That's why they stayed outside and started throwing rocks that destroyed all the lamps outside, the windows, the windshields of the vehicles parked inside [the courtyard]," said Christian. He claims their objective was to burn his house to the ground.

"When these people left my house, then went on to attack my father's [Charles Mwando] home, which is not far from mine," he said. "They managed to destroy the vehicles and smashed the windows but fortunately were not able to enter the house."

Christian Mwando recounts the attack on his home in Lubumbashi IBTimes UK

At the time of the attack, Christian's three children, aged nine, 11 and 15, were at home with their mother. They have now been removed from the country as Christian fears for their safety.

During the melee, neighbours managed to apprehend two of the assailants and handed them over to Monusco, who took their identities and transferred them to the police. Following the incident, Christian went to file a complaint at the court in Lubumbashi, who contacted the police to ask for the perpetrators' testimonies – only to be told their whereabouts are now unknown.

Crucially, Christian alleged that he had been told by one of the attackers themselves that they had been recruited by the provincial Minister of Interior, Kasongo Kibale, raising questions over the state's involvement in the incident and the steady erosion of democracy in the country.

"We are entering a bloody dictatorship," said Christian. "This means fear is beginning to take hold and I think Kabila wants to gain time , so that he can entrench this fear. He knows that, within six or eight months, he will no longer face the same pressure from the people because he would have spread terror.

"You realise that when we are attacked like this in our homes, we suffer. When our supporters are locked up in jail, that TV and radio stations are closed down and that we no longer have the right to express ourselves, that we no longer have the right to assemble or demonstrate – what options will we have left?"

DRC enters ‘a bloody dictatorship’
Flares are launched by the police during a demonstration in Goma, North Kivu on 19 September 2016 Mustafa Mulopwe/AFP/Getty Images

Ida Sawyer, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said:

"In recent weeks, repression in the DRC against activists, the opposition protesters, and the media has intensified at an alarming rate as the 19 December deadline approaches for when President Kabila is due to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit.

"Since security forces responded to protests the week of 19 September with brutal and excessive force – killing at least 66 people and possibly many more – government officials and security forces have banned all political meetings or demonstrations and arrested dozens of activists, journalists and opposition members who tried to organise or participate in peaceful protests.

"In the southern city of Lubumbashi, the homes of opposition leaders have also been targeted. On 19 November, dozens of unidentified assailants vandalised the homes of Mwando Nsimba (Charles), one of the leaders of the G7 opposition coalition, and his son and Member of Parliament, Christian Mwando, while on 30 November, unidentified assailants set fire to the house entrance gate of another G7 opposition leader, Gabriel Kyungu.

"These attacks appear to be part of the broader crackdown to spread fear and intimidation among opposition leaders, their supporters, and others who have called for President Kabila to step down at the end of his mandate."

IBTimes UK contacted the DRC embassy in London to comment on the allegations, but did not receive a reply at the time of publication.

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