August 22, 2016

Désiré, free at last after “9 years of death”

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)DetentionNews

Kinshasa, DR Congo, 22 August 2016– With the help of ASF, Désiré Loko has been released after spending exactly 8 years, 5 months and 21 days in preventive detention at Kinshasa’s central prison, even though he was innocent. His case illustrates the problem of preventive detention in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Prisoners sometimes spend years in detention without having a judge make a ruling on their fate and without access to a lawyer. Désiré Loko tells his story: “I was a street vendor. One morning, the police arrested me in the street in Kinshasa for vagrancy and begging. They took me to the [Kinshasa/Gombe] prosecutor’s office,where I was transferred directly to Makala prison [the central prison in Kinshasa]. I stayed there nearly nine years, without ever having seen a judge.” Désiré, who comes from the Province of Equateur, had just moved to the Congolese capital when he was arrested. Throughout his years of detention, he received no support from his family still in Equateur, who knew nothing about his situation. “In prison, they barely give you anything to eat. I survived by working for a chief guard. In exchange, he would give me something to eat”, explains Désiré.
Kinshasa 2016 - Désiré Loko - photo ASF (16) Webstory
Désiré Loko, released after more than eight years of illegal preventive detention. Kinshasa, RD Congo, 2016 © ASF
As part of a project to combat mass pre-trial detention, a group of lawyers supported by ASF was able to provide judicial assistance to prisoners being held in preventive detention. Désiré Loko was able to receive free legal aid through the free advice centre of the Kinshasa/Gombe Bar. In October 2015, his case was entrusted to a lawyer, Samuel Atweka. After several proceedings before the prison administration and judicial authorities, and advocacy with the Congolese Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Désiré was finally released on 24 May 2016. In its order of release from detention, the Kinshasa/Bombe prosecutor’s office confirmed that Mr Loko was innocent and that there were no grounds for the legal action against him. “Today, I”m free. I give thanks to God. But I don’t know where to start. I have nothing and no family in Kinshasa and I don’t know what to do”, says Désiré Loko.  “What I do know is that there are a lot of prisoners in the same situation. It is necessary to continue helping them”, he adds. Mr Atweka confirms: “It is essential that we address the problem of legal aid and judicial assistance for individuals whose circumstances make them vulnerable in general and for those in preventive detention in particular.” During the two-year ASF project (2014-2016), lawyers were able to provide judicial assistance to 2,379 adults (including 214 women) and 522 minors (including 39 girls) in four Congolese prisons. Discover Désiré’s full story before his release and other first-hand accounts of preventive detention in DR Congo in the photo essay by Rosalie Colfs (in French).
Cover picture: extract from the photo essay “Preventive Detention – First-hand Accounts” © Rosalie Colfs for ASF, 2016

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