Legal Tensions Rise in DR Congo: The Case Against Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo

On Saturday, in Kinshasa, DR Congo, the legal landscape became turbulent following the prosecutor general’s request to pursue legal action against Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, a prominent church leader and head of the bishops’ conference of Africa and Madagascar. This development has ignited a wide range of reactions across social media and public discussions.

The call for judicial scrutiny came when the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Firmin Mvonde, wrote to his counterpart at the Court of Appeals, initiating a case against Cardinal Ambongo. The charges levelled against him include spreading rumors and inciting public unrest against the government, as well as making disparaging remarks about the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) troops engaged in combat.

Cardinal Ambongo has been openly critical of the Kinshasa government’s handling of the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo. He has condemned the government’s collaborations with the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) and the arming of local militias, including a group known as Wazalendo, which has contributed to the instability in Goma.

The reaction to the prosecutor’s move varied widely among Congolese citizens. On social media, many voiced their concern, viewing this legal action as an attempt to silence a significant religious figure in Africa, one known for his candid critiques of the government.

Nobel laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege, who ran in the recent DR Congo presidential elections, expressed surprise and concern over the news, interpreting it as an indication of the government using the judiciary as a tool for oppression and an inability to govern and restore security effectively. He defended Cardinal Ambongo’s right to freedom of speech as protected under the constitution and called on Congolese authorities to cease targeting the church leader.

Noé Kalala, a local commentator, highlighted the importance of freedom of speech but acknowledged that it comes with legal responsibilities. Conversely, Roddy Nzem Asem questioned why the judiciary appears selective in its pursuits, seemingly targeting those who speak for the public’s interest rather than corrupt individuals.

Mibenge Bagunda pointed out that no one is above the law, suggesting that Cardinal Ambongo should either clear his name or perhaps relocate to Rome. Meanwhile, Martin Fayulu, an opposition leader, described the legal pursuit as a trivial matter in the broader scope of governmental challenges, urging Congolese to prepare to overcome this act of silencing dissent.

In response to Cardinal Ambongo’s earlier remarks, government spokesperson Patrick Muyaya last Monday criticized the Cardinal’s comments as exaggerated and aligned with the rhetoric of Rwanda’s government, hinting at potential subversive support. Cardinal Ambongo has not yet responded to these latest legal developments but previously stated in an interview with Télévision Catholique Francophone that both the Catholic Church and its leaders, like himself, inevitably take sides based on their moral convictions, which may be seen as biased by political figures.

This unfolding situation in Kinshasa illustrates the ongoing tensions between church and state, reflecting the complex interplay of politics, religion, and freedom of expression in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.