DR Congo police arrest 10 Roman Catholic priests in anti-president protests

Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila addresses the nation at Palais du Peuple in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo April 5, 2017. | Reuters/Kenny Katombe

At least 10 Roman Catholic priests and more than 200 civilians were arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday for taking part in demonstrations demanding the resignation of President Joseph Kabila.

The demonstrations, which began after Mass, had turned violent after police fired live bullets and tear gas in an effort to disperse the protesters.

Six people were killed, more than 100 were injured and two nuns were reported missing following the clashes. Among those who died was a 16-year-old girl who was standing by a church door.

Advocates for the arrested priests have expressed concern about their welfare. "We have registered the case of 10 priests who have been arrested, including Father Dieudonne Mukinayi of Saint Christophe Parish in Binza Ozone. He is detained in a residence of a government official alongside eight parishioners," said Georges Kapiamba, the president of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice.

"According to information we have, they (continue) to be mistreated. Their clothes have been torn. Two nuns are missing, 257 demonstrators have been arrested and are being held in various cells in Kinshasa," he added.

The Catholic Church's Lay Coordination Committee called for a nationwide protest to push for the implementation of a political agreement, which was signed by the government and the opposition on Dec. 31, 2016.

The agreement, which was brokered by the Catholic Church, mandates Kabila to step down at the end of his tenure, and organize elections in 2017.

The Church had appealed for a large but peaceful demonstration, but the Congolese authorities banned the marches and did not give a formal permission.

In the country's capital of Kinshasa, Congolese authorities cut off the internet the day before the demonstrations. The police issued a warning, saying they would not tolerate "any attempt to disturb public order."

"The church deplores the excessive use of force on demonstrators who were only armed with Bibles, rosaries and branches," Abbé Donatien Nshole, the secretary general of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, said in a statement to Religion News Service.

Kabila, who came to power after the 2001 assassination of his father, has previously stated that he will not extend his power beyond a two-term constitutional limit, which expired in December 2016.

However, elections have been repeatedly delayed since the expiration of his term and he has not ruled out another presidential run through constitutional changes.

The elections, which were supposed to be held by the end of 2017, has now been scheduled to take place in December 2018.

In December, at least seven people were killed and several altar boys were arrested in massive protests against Kabila.