Rape 'routine' in DR Congo prisons

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Security officials "routinely" rape women in prisons in DR Congo as punishment for their political activities, a UK-based charity says.

Freedom From Torture said medical reports of 34 women showed many of them had been brutally gang-raped.

The women - who included traders and professionals aged between 18 and 62 - are seeking asylum in the UK.

Democratic Republic of Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende told the BBC the report lacked credibility.

It did not contain enough facts and details, he said.

Two Congolese human rights groups told the BBC they had not received any reports of political rape in the country's prisons, although they said it might happen in secret detention centres.

In its report, Freedom From Torture said one woman was arrested and raped after organising a protest against sexual violence.

image copyrightReuters
image captionSome Congolese soldiers were convicted of rape in May

The group's Dr Juliet Cohen told the BBC: "There are some striking consistencies in the experiences of sexual violence and torture of the women in this report which strongly suggests that this horrific abuse is being routinely carried out in prisons in the DRC."

'Not human beings'

DR Congo is often dubbed the "rape capital of the world", with rights groups saying that rape and sexual violence has become a weapon of war since conflict broke out in the early 1990s in the east of the country.

In May, two soldiers were convicted of rape by a military court.

Freedom From Torture said women were raped by security force members to stop "women speaking out about politics, human rights and, in some cases, rape itself".

It says women were abused at several locations in the capital, Kinshasa 1,500 km (1,000 miles) from the conflict zones.

One woman, named as Faith in the report, said security agents raided her home in early 2013 after she organised an anti-rape protest in the province of Bas Congo, west of Kinshasa.

"One of them said: 'You are talking about rape, now we'll show you what rape means'. They raped my niece in front of us. Then they took me to prison," she is quoted as saying in the report.

"Now I know, because I have been there, that it is normal for women to be sexually abused in prison," she said.

"The soldiers and the prison guards, they don't see women as human beings, they don't see any value in women. I can't even remember how many times I was raped."

Since her arrival in the UK, Faith has been admitted to hospital, Freedom From Torture said.

"She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and she no longer likes being around other people," it added.

Josephine Mfulu-Batonda, who has monitored human rights abuses in prisons for several years for the organisation ACIDH, told the BBC's Maud Jullien that, in the past year, eight of the 100 women in Kinshasa's main prison, Makala, had reported being sexually abused but these were not political detainees.

Makala is one of the places where Freedom From Torture documented political rape.

Ms Mfulu-Batonda said it was common for prison staff and other inmates to force female prisoners into prostitution and to share the profit.

La Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless) works closely with inmates of visits Kinshasa's main prison and says it hasn't had any reports of rape there since 2006.

The group's Rostin Manketa says if there were any cases of female activists being raped as a result of their political activity, this would be an extremely serious issue and they would have reported it.