Security forces in the Republic of Congo must refrain from using excessive force against protesters, Amnesty International said today.
Five people are reported to have been killed among reports that the police used live ammunition against protesters who gathered to demonstrate against the proposed changes to the country’s constitution ahead of Sunday’s referendum.
“A heavy-handed response by security forces not only violates the protesters’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but may enflame an already tense situation,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International Central Africa researcher.
“The use of force and the deaths of protesters must be independently, impartially and effectively investigated and if there are grounds to suspect individuals of criminal responsibility they must be brought to justice.”
Media freedom is also under threat with mobile Internet services, text messaging and the signal of some radio stations cut in Brazzaville.
“Shutting down communication networks and radio signals is a clear and unjustified attack on media freedom,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi.
“Authorities must ensure that journalists are able to carry out their work without fear, free from intimidation and harassment.”
President Sassou Nguesso ruled Congo from 1979 to 1992.
Under the current constitution, Sassou Nguesso, 72, is not able to run again because of his age and due to the fact that he has already served two seven-year terms.
In the last presidential poll in 2009, he won nearly 79 percent of the votes. Half of his 12 rivals boycotted the election.
Tens of thousands of the president’s supporters staged a rally on Saturday in favour of the constitutional changes.
The turnout dwarfed the size of an anti-government demonstration late last month, when several thousand people poured onto the capital’s streets to protest against the president’s plan to cling to power.
Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of Amnesty International.