Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) new president, Felix Tshisekedi, pardoned three prominent political prisoners and 700 regular ones on Wednesday, state TV reported, a goodwill gesture signaling a break with a predecessor who had scores of his opponents jailed.
The president freed opposition figures Franck Diongo, Diomi Ndongala and Firmin Yangambi, who had been imprisoned on charges such as insurrection against the Congolese state, under former president Joseph Kabila. Diongo had been sentenced to five years for detaining three soldiers during protests in 2016.
Tshisekedi took over from Kabila after a December 30 election that enabled Democratic Republic of Congo’s first transfer power at the ballot box since independence in 1960.
The measures were clearly intended to signal a departure from Kabila’s 18-year rule, the latter years of which were characterised by crackdowns on political dissent.
Scores of opposition politicians and activists were arrested in 2016, the year Kabila’s legal mandate ran out and many called for him to go.
Rights groups called the charges politically motivated.
The pardons might go some way towards allaying fears that Tshisekedi is to some extent a front for Kabila’s interests. Supporters of opposition candidate Martin Fayulu and some independent observers rejected December’s election results as a stitch up based on a deal done between Tshisekedi and Kabila, a charge their camps both deny.
Over a hundred more political prisoners still remain jailed in Congo, and rights groups have called for all to be released.