Congo revokes work permit for human rights researcher

August 10, 2016 GMT

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo has refused to renew a work permit for a Human Rights Watch senior researcher, requiring her to leave as tensions increase over November elections, the rights organization said.

Human Rights Watch said that by revoking Ida Sawyer’s work permit, President Joseph Kabila’s government is restricting human rights reporting before the elections and during a period of increased government repression.

“This is about more than forcing Ida Sawyer out of Congo, but is a brazen attempt to muzzle reporting on the government’s brutal repression of those supporting presidential term limits,” said executive director for Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth.

Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said the decision was made by immigration officials and that Sawyer was not considered persona non grata.

Congo’s electoral commission says elections may not be held by November. Opposition leaders say Kabila is trying to stay in power beyond his mandate, which ends in December.

Human Rights Watch said immigration authorities renewed Sawyer’s work permit in May, but annulled it later and then denied her a new visa. Sawyer, an American who has been in Congo with the organization since 2008, has conducted research and advocacy on human rights abuses by armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as the government.

Several other researchers have also been forced to leave, the rights organization said. Congo Research Group director Jason Stearns was forced to leave in April after a report about massacres in eastern Congo’s Beni, it said. And authorities forced two Global Witness researchers to leave in July.

Human Rights Watch said that since January 2015, government security forces have carried out arbitrary arrests, fired on peaceful protesters, banned opposition demonstrations and prevented opposition leaders from free movement. It said 14 activists and political opponents remain in prison.


Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.