DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: The Observatory demands the immediate release of the Honorary President of the North Kivu Bar, Joseph Sanane Chiko, arbitrarily detained in Goma and recently transferred to Kinshasa
20 March 2023
On 3 March 2023, the Honorary President of the North Kivu Bar, Joseph Sanane Chiko, was arbitrarily detained by military intelligence in the city of Goma, in the province of North Kivu, for having denied the accusations brought against his client, the National Deputy MWANGACHUCHU HIZI. Since 13 March 2023, the lawyer has been in Kinshasa, after being transferred to the National Directorate of Military Intelligence.
Honorary President Joseph Sanane Chiko is a Congolese lawyer who has been a member of the Bar since 1994 and Honorary President of the North Kivu Bar (formerly the Goma Bar). He is detained in Goma, North Kivu, a city placed under a state of siege by the Government of the Republic due to the resurgence of insecurity and the repeated wars waged by the regular army against multiple armed groups, the most violent of which is the M23 rebellion, supported by the army of Rwanda, a neighbouring country located on the eastern border of the DRC.
According to official army sources, the arrest of the Honorary President is related to the charges against his client, the parliamentarian Edward Mwangachuchu, owner of the “Mining Company of Bisunzu” (SMB), who is appearing before the DRC’s High Military Court, notably for illegal possession of arms, undermining state security and participation in an insurrectional movement. In an interview with the local press, the former President of the Bar reportedly described the charges against his client as “fabricated” and denounced the looting by the government army of minerals found at the MCB site after the staff had evacuated the site due to violent fighting in the area.
The arrest of the former President of the Bar, Joseph Sanane Chiko, constitutes a criminalisation of the statements he made in the context of his mandate, to deny the facts of which his client is accused, which is clearly not punishable under Congolese criminal law.
Since his arrest, the various members of the North Kivu Bar who sought to contact him have been prevented from seeing him, which is worrying and indignant for all his colleagues, especially in view of the clear violation of the fundamental rights of the President of the Bar, Joseph Sanane Chiko, who has been isolated in such a way as to prevent him from contacting his bar association. For the current President of the North Kivu Bar in Goma, Félicien Hitimana, who reiterated his indignation in a statement on 8 March, all attempts to contact the military intelligence officials who are holding him have been unsuccessful.
The Observatory joins the concerns expressed by the Bar and the lawyer’s family, due to the hidden nature of the investigation of the case. According to the latest information received on 13 March 2023, the Honorary President of the Bar has been transferred to Kinshasa to the National Directorate of Military Intelligence, where he is still detained.
The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention of lawyer Joseph Sanane Chiko and demands his immediate and unconditional release.
The Observatory expresses its total solidarity with the North Kivu Bar, which has mobilised in support of our colleague Joseph Sanane Chiko.
The Observatory calls on the Congolese authorities to ensure the cessation of all criminalisation and interference in the exercise of the profession of lawyer by Joseph Sanane Chiko and other colleagues in the country.
The Observatory reminds the Congolese authorities that the independence of the legal profession is one of the main indicators of democratic health and the consolidation of the rule of law. This is in line with the United Nations Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990), which state that:
“Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all their professional functions without hindrance, intimidation, harassment or undue interference; (…); and (c) are not subject to, or threatened with, prosecution or economic or other sanctions for any actions taken in accordance with their recognized professional obligations and standards and their professional ethics.” (Principle 16)
“Lawyers shall not be equated with their clients or their clients’ cause by reason of the performance of their duties.” (Principle 18)
“Lawyers, like all other citizens, shall enjoy freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly.” (Principle 23)