Press Release / April 10, 2006

Top Transparency Campaigners arrested in Republic of Congo

The international Publish What You Pay coalition is deeply concerned by the arrest in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) of two prominent campaigners against corruption and human rights abuses, Christian Mounzeo and Brice Mackosso. The arrests follow a campaign of intimidation and threats against the two men, who have spoken out courageously against the misuse of oil revenues in their country.
Mounzeo and Mackosso are the Co-ordinators of the Congolese branch of the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) coalition. PWYP is a global coalition of civil society groups which campaigns for greater transparency in the management of revenues paid to governments by the oil and mining industries. They were arrested in the city of Pointe-Noire on 6 April on charges of having misappropriated funds from a human rights organisation founded by Mr Mounzeo, Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l'Homme. They were released that night, but then rearrested on Friday 7 April and remain in custody.
The arrests of Mr Mounzeo and Mr Mackosso were ordered at the highest level of the Congolese police but did not follow the procedures defined by Congolese law. Their lawyer was at first refused access to them on the grounds that police were under instruction not to allow them any legal assistance, a clear violation of their human rights. In addition, the two men were told by the Pointe-Noire Prosecutor that they had to be put into protective custody because of the 'political' nature of their work. Police officers who questioned Mr Mounzeo and Mr Mackosso have showed less interest in the financial allegations against them than their role as prominent critics of the oil-related corruption which is systemic in their country, and have confiscated documents relating to their campaigning activities. No proper record was made of the documents taken, which opens up the danger of false evidence being introduced
Republic of Congo, a highly indebted poor country, has signed up to reform of its oil sector in return for debt relief. Despite these commitments, there is clear evidence of systemic mismanagement, with the government's own figures revealing hundreds of millions of dollars unaccounted for in the budget. In December 2005, a London court judgement revealed that Republic of Congo’s top oil officials had overseen sales of hundreds of millions of dollars of cut-price oil to companies owned by the head of the national oil company, ostensibly to hide them from the country’s creditors. The revelations resulted in international donors, led by the World Bank, insisting on increased oversight and transparency of Congo's oil revenue management before the country is granted full debt relief.
Congo is also supposedly a participant in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global process which promotes transparency of oil and mining revenues. Although the free participation of civil society groups is a cornerstone of EITI, Mounzeo and Mackosso have faced months of denunciations from government officials because of their work in promoting good governance and fighting corruption, and have also been accused of misappropriating funds. None of these allegations have been substantiated and they have not been made by the international organisations which actually provided the funds.
‘We are deeply concerned that Mr Mounzeo and Mr Makosso have been arrested on trumped-up charges because of their courageous stand against the corruption of oil revenues in their country,’ said Publish What You Pay Africa Co-ordinator Matteo Pellegrini. ‘We call on the international community to make clear to the Congolese government that it must respect their human rights and not abuse the legal process in order to silence those who speak out for the public interest.’
For further information please contact:
Matteo Pellegrini (PWYP Africa Coordinator) +237 634 5635
Grégoire Niaudet (Secours Catholique, French PWYP Coalition) +33 616 93 20 15
Moké Loamba (President, Congolese PWYP Coalition) +242 521 5407
Sarah Wykes (Global Witness) +44 207 561 63 62 or +44 7703 108 449