June 27, 2020 / 6:10 PM / 9 days ago

Congo's justice minister released hours after arrest

KINSHASA (Reuters) - The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Justice Minister Celestin Tunda was released from custody on Saturday evening, just hours after his arrest in the capital Kinshasa.

Tunda was questioned by prosecutors for several hours at the court of cassation after surrendering to police at his home earlier in the afternoon.

“Did I kill someone? What justifies sending armed police officers to arrest me?” Tunda told reporters after his release.

Authorities did not immediately explain the reason for Tunda’s detention, which comes at a time of discord in the ruling coalition between President Felix Tshisekedi and allies of his long-serving predecessor, Joseph Kabila, who stepped down last year.

Political analysts and diplomats said the arrest appeared to be connected to a proposed legal reform to give politicians more control over criminal prosecutions, which had sparked several days of protests this week.

Tunda is a senior figure in Kabila’s FCC political alliance, which has kept hold of a majority in parliament and most posts in the Cabinet since Tshisekedi took office.

“If they no longer want the coalition, we want to go directly towards cohabitation,” said Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, number two in Kabila’s party and a close ally of Tunda.

Tshisekedi, long an opponent of Kabila, was declared the winner of an election in which Kabila was ineligible to stand after 18 years in power.

“I think we are living a turning point in the relation between FCC and (Tshisekedi’s) UDPS,” said Fred Bauma from the Congo Research Group at New York University.

The proposed legal reform would give the ministry of justice greater control over prosecutors, which opponents say would damage the independence of the judiciary.

“Undermining this independence would erode protection of civil and political rights in the (Congo),” the embassies of Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States said in a joint statement on Thursday.

Hundreds of protesters rallied against the law on the grounds of parliament on Wednesday. They were dispersed by police firing tear gas and water cannon.

Reporting by Stanis Bujakera and Hereward Holland; Writing by Bate Felix and Hereward Holland; Editing by Alison Williams, Peter Graff and Jonathan Oatis

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