Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Congo, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9fa6c.html [accessed 19 May 2013]
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Critics of the government, and trade unionists were imprisoned; some of them appeared to be prisoners of conscience. A refugee was threatened with death by a member of the security forces. Several people were killed by members of the security forces in suspicious circumstances. Prison conditions continued to be so harsh that they constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Although there was relative stability during the year, sporadic incidents of political violence continued to be reported (see previous Amnesty International Reports). Between 14 and 19 February, there was a mutiny among former members of a disbanded militia allied to the ruling Mouvance présidentielle, Presidential Tendency, who demanded that they be paid and their position regularized. The mutiny reportedly left five people dead and 37 injured. Following the mutiny, up to 2,500 former members of pro-government militias were recruited into the army. For the first time, the 19 members of the Supreme Court were elected by the National Assembly and Senate. Of the 19, 12 were associated with the Mouvance présidentielle, and five with the opposition Mouvement congolais pour la démocratie et le développement intégral (MCDDI), Congolese Movement for Democracy and Integral Development, led by Bernard Kolélas. A law passed by the National Assembly in late 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996) which restricted journalists and limited freedom of expression was finally approved by the Senate. In February, four trade unionists from the state-owned Post and Telecommunications company were sentenced to four months in prison and a fine for their role in a strike over the privatization of the company. There were reports that they had been ill-treated in custody. A pattern of arrests and harassment of government critics and potential electoral opponents emerged during the year, ahead of presidential elections scheduled for July 1997. In May, Colonel Casimir Buissa Matoko, a close friend of former President and opposition leader Denis Sassou Nguesso, was arrested at Brazzaville airport. He was accused of possessing seditious documents. According to reports, the documents included human rights publications and information about the 1992 elections. He was held incommunicado without charge for two weeks at the airport, before being transferred to a civilian prison. In September, Colonel Matoko and another supporter of Denis Sassou Nguesso, Gabriel Longombe, were convicted by a Brazzaville court of endangering the security of the state. Neither of the defendants had been charged with the offence, nor had the charge been raised during the trial. Colonel Matoko was also convicted of illegal possession of arms. He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with one year suspended. Gabriel Longombe was stripped of his civil rights and prohibited from living in Brazzaville for two years. Both men lodged an appeal, which had not been heard by the end of the year. In September, another supporter of former President Sassou Nguesso was arrested. Pierre Otto Mbongo, a businessman, was arrested without a warrant by around 50 armed soldiers. He was detained for seven days at a Border Police station, then taken to Brazzaville central prison after a committal order was issued by a judge. When he arrived at the prison he was immediately taken to an undisclosed location, where he was held incommunicado. Although he required medical care for gout and hypertension, he was not allowed to see his doctor. On 12 December, he was moved to another place of detention at the request of his doctor. A leading member of a local refugee organization received death threats from the security forces and escaped an assassination attempt. Emmanuel Cole, President of the Association des réfugiés du Congo, Association of Refugees in Congo, was threatened by a member of the Direction pour la surveillance du territoire, Department of Territorial Surveillance, on 30 March. Two days later he was shot at from a passing car as he walked along the street. He had been detained for a month in 1995 and allegedly tortured. A number of people died at the hands of members of the security forces. On 24 January, three people were reported to have been killed and a number injured in clashes between trainee soldiers and civilians at Nyaki which followed the death of a trainee soldier. It was not known whether there was any investigation into the deaths. There were no investigations into extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations perpetrated in previous years (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996). Prison conditions continued to be so harsh that they amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Lack of food, inadequate hygiene and overcrowding led to severe malnourishment among prisoners and a high incidence of tuberculosis, malaria and aids. Amnesty International expressed concern about the incommunicado detention of Colonel Casimir Buissa Matoko and was assured by the authorities that he had been given access to a doctor as well as to his lawyer and members of his family. The organization urged the authorities to investigate the irregularities surrounding his detention and trial and to take steps to ensure that such breaches of procedure did not recur. Amnesty International sought assurances regarding the safety of Emmanuel Cole and other refugees and that the threats against him and attempt on his life would be investigated.