The Democratic Republic of Congo has issued an arrest warrant against the opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi.
Katumbi has been indicted on charges of hiring mercenaries as part of a plot against the state, a prosecutor said on Thursday.
A few week ago, the government through the Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe ordered a probe into Katumbi's deals claiming that the government "has proof of ... Katumbi's involvement in the recruitment of mercenaries, including several retired American soldiers," he said.
Katumbi, the wealthy owner of one of Africa’s top football clubs, TP Mazembe, has continuously denied the accusations, which he says are targeted at derailing his campaign to succeed DRC’s President Joseph Kabila in elections set for November.
"Moise Katumbi, after having been amply heard by the magistrate in charge of his case, has been indicted on the charge of offenses against the internal and external security of the state," Congo's assistant prosecutor general, Anselme Maduda Muanda Madiela, said in a statement.
Katumbi who was once an ally of the president left the ruling party last September on realizing that the party was plotting to extend the president’s term which begun in 2001.
The former governor of Katanga, Congo's main copper-mining region, has been nursing injuries in hospital after police fired tear gas at him and his supporters outside the prosecutor's office in Lubumbashi where he had been questioned.
During the three days of hearings last week, Katumbi’s supporters and the police clashed and the chaos could turn violent especially with the indictment and possible arrest.
Katumbi was not available for comment on Thursday, Reuters reported. According to his lawyers, they had not yet been officially informed of Katumbi’s charges. It was not clear whether he would be arrested immediately or kept under surveillance while in the hospital.
Uganda’s Besigye charged with treason and remanded
Uganda’s opposition leader case is not any different. Kizza Besigye was charged with treason by a Ugandan court and will remain in custody until the next hearing scheduled for May 25.
"We have been informed by police today that Besigye appeared in court in Moroto and was charged with treason," his lawyer Erias Lukwago said on Monday.
Besigye was arrested in Kampala last Wednesday after holding a mock ‘swearing in’, a day before the fifth inauguration of Yoweri Museveni as Uganda’s president. According to local reports, the opposition leader escaped house arrest before attending the event in downtown Kampala.
Besigye has been arrested several times prior to the elections, and even after the February 18 polls, which saw Museveni garner 61 percent of the vote and 35 percent for the opposition leader. Besigye dismissed the vote as rigged and has since been on a campaign trail to invalidate what he calls Museveni’s “illegal presidency”.
Charges placed on both Katumbi and Besigye could carry the death penalty. The two countries have however not exercised such a penalty for many years.
President Kabila’s decision to change the constitution to allow him to run for another term was barred. There is a possibility that the November elections might be delayed as the government claims that it is facing budgetary and logistical constraints. Last week, the country's highest court ruled that Kabila would stay in power beyond the end of his mandate if the election does not take place. This was however termed as a "constitutional coup d'etat" by opposition parties which called for marches across the country on May 26 to demand that Kabila steps down this year.
"You can come up with anything you like - sanctions or whatever. You won't scare us!" Henri Mova Sakani, the Secretary-General of Kabila's party, said. He was responding to the United States and Britain, who said they were actively considering sanctioning Kabila's inner circle unless progress was made towards holding elections on time.
The Secretary-General accused outside forces of trying to split up the country in a bid to restore colonialism.
Intimidation of the opposition is increasingly being used in DR Congo and Uganda to deter opposition leaders and other activists from exercising their rights.
Image Credit: Reuters