DRCongo court sentences activists to suspended jail terms

The political climate in the DR Congo is tense in the run-up to elections scheduled for November, when the current President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, is barred by the constitution from seeking another term (AFP Photo/Junior D. Kannah)

Goma (DR Congo) (AFP) - A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday handed six-month suspended prison sentences to four members of an opposition movement that has been subject to a government crackdown, their lawyer said.

They are also subject to a one-year probation period, during which time "participation in an unauthorised demonstration or another common law offence" puts them at risk of imprisonment, Me Mugisho said.

Prosecutors had requested that the group, charged with distributing leaflets calling for the release of jailed activists, be imprisoned for three years.

They were handing out the leaflets in Goma in the country's east.

The activists were members of the Goma-based Struggle for Change (LUCHA) group, a three-year-old movement that, along with other opposition movements, has suffered heavy-handed treatment from the authorities.

LUCHA's members were also among those detained when the DRC's National Intelligence Agency made a wave of arrests in the capital Kinshasa in March, seizing people who had just attended a US-sponsored pro-democracy workshop of the Filimbi project.

All of those arrested at the time have been released, with the exception of Fred Bauma, one of LUCHA's leaders, and Yves Makwambala, a Filimbi webmaster.

The UN mission to the DRC on Tuesday called for the "immediate release" of the pair, pointing in particular to a "lack of evidence".

The political climate in the country is tense in the run-up to elections scheduled for November.

The constitution bars President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, from seeking another term but opponents fear he will try to change the law in an attempt to stay in power.