The Catholic Church is trying to oust an African dictator — photos and video show priests being beaten in the streets

Demonstrators kneel and chant slogans during a protest organised by Catholic activists in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo January 21, 2018.

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Demonstrators kneel and chant slogans during a protest organised by Catholic activists in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo January 21, 2018.
source
Reuters

Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila has refused to relinquish power for more than a year, and the Catholic Church has emerged as the leader in the fight against him.

Since December, when Kabila again refused to step down, the church and a spiritual group called the Lay Coordination Committee have organized a handful of protests, all of which have ended violently.

Most recently, anti-government protests in the capital city of Kinshasa on Sunday left four people dead and two more injured, according to the Associated Press.

Kabila’s refusal to step down has also aggravated violence between government forces and multiple armed groups in other areas of the country. This includes the Kasai and Kivu regions, where mass atrocities have been carried out by both sides, killing and displacing thousands in the last few years.

Here’s what’s going on:


President Joseph Kabila took power of the DRC in 2001 after his father’s assassination.

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Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila addresses a news conference at the State House in Kinshasa on January 26, 2018.
source
Reuters

Kabila helped unify the country after the two Congo wars of 1996-97 and 1998-2003, bringing back international business and raising GDP.

But at the same time, his government has been accused of gross incompetence, corruption and human rights abuses.

Source: AFP


Kabila was supposed to step down after his two-term mandate expired on December 19, 2016, but he stayed on after invoking a controversial law requiring a successor to be elected. This sparked a wave of protests.

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Residents chant slogans against Kabila as they light a fire barricade in the streets of Kinshasa on December 20, 2016.
source
Reuters

In January 2017, the Catholic Church brokered a deal between Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy and opposition parties that elections would be held in December 2017 and that Kabila would step down.


In December 2017, Kabila again refused to step down, saying that an election would have to be held at the end of 2018 because the government didn’t have enough money.

source
Reuters

Election officials have even said that, because of continued financial and logistical problems, the election might be even held later than that.


With opposition parties in disarray, the Catholic Church, which had previously tried to stay neutral, organized anti-government protests together with a spiritual group called the Lay Coordination Committee.

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Demonstrators kneel and chant slogans during a protest organized by Catholic activists in Kinshasa on January 21, 2018.
source
Reuters

In the first demonstration on December 31, 2017, seven demonstrators were killed by government forces.


On January 21st, another protest was held in which government forces killed 5 more protesters, firing live rounds and tear gas into crowds of demonstrators.

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Riot policemen fire tear gas to disperse Catholic priest and demonstrators during a protest against President Joseph Kabila organized by the Catholic church in Kinshasa.
source
Thomson Reuters

“We were dispersed by tear gas, stun grenades and live bullets. We have again seen deaths, injuries, priests being arrested, and the theft of citizens’ property,” Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo said after the protests, according to Reuters.

“How can you kill men, women, children, youths and old people all chanting religious songs, carrying bibles, rosaries and crucifixes? Are we now living in an open prison?”

Source: Al Jazeera


But the church and the LCC have not stopped.

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A priest prays outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, February 25, 2018.
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REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

They organized another protest on Sunday after mass, but government forces surrounded the churches that were planning to participate in the demonstrations before the parishioners could even take to the streets.

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A policeman takes cover in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, February 25, 2018.
source
Reuters

As police confined them, many churchgoers prayed and chanted slogans.

source
Reuters

But violence soon erupted.

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A policeman reacts after an anti-government protester threw a stone on February 25, 2018.
source
Reuters

Police again fired live rounds and tear gas into crowds, and even beat, kicked, and arrested priests and protesters who were peacefully marching, which the video below shows.

Source: Jason Stearns


The violence reportedly left four dead and 47 more injured.

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A protester, who was shot in the leg by police during a protest, lies in a hospital in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, February 25, 2018.
source
Reuters

Source: Associated Press


The political violence unfolding in Kinshasa and other cities has also aggravated conflicts in different regions of the country, namely the regions of Kasai and Kivu.

source
Reuters

In Kasai, the Congolose military has been battling a militia group called Kamuina Nsapu since August 2016, and in the Kivu, it has been battling an Islamist group called the Allied Democratic Forces since the 1990s.

Source: US News


The fighting between the two sides in Kasai has left more than 3,300 people dead and 1.4 million displaced since August 2016.

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Human skulls suspected to belong to victims of a recent combat between government army and Kamuina Nsapu militia are seen on the roadside in Tshimaiyi near Kananga, the capital of Kasai-central province of the DRC
source
Thomson Reuters

Dozens of mass graves have also been found in the region, which the Congolese military blames on the Kamuina Nsapu militia.

But the UN has also hinted that the Congolese military dug the graves after battling the militia.


Meanwhile in Kivu, the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces killed 15 UN peacekeepers and five Congolese troops in December.

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Congolese soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) stand in front of the body of an ADF rebel who was killed in a rebel camp, near the town of Kimbau, North Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo, February 19, 2018.
source
Reuters

Last week, the Congolese military attacked an ADF base, and gruesomely massacred a number of its fighters.


Between June and November last year, “at least 526 civilians were killed … at least 1,087 people were abducted or kidnapped for ransom, and there were at least 7 incidents of mass rape,” according to Human Rights Watch.

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Democratic Republic of the Congolese soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) walk in line after the army took over an ADF rebel camp, near the town of Kimbau, North Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo, February 20, 2018.
source
Reuters

While Kabila has blamed militia groups for much of the violence, his own troops have been accused of carrying out a bulk of the human rights violations, according to Jason Stearns of the Congo Research Group.

With tensions continuing to rise, and Kabila seemingly intent on holding as long he can, only time will tell what the future holds for the DRC.

Source: Human Rights Watch