- International financial institutions, particularly the World Bank, have been asked to re-evaluate their relations with the government of Congo-Brazzaville, which is said to pay no heed to good governance, democracy and respect for the rights of its citizens. Brazzaville authorities are accused of corrupt practices after arresting the country's leading anticorruption activist.
The World Bank has been asked to shame or damn Congo Brazzaville for continuously harassing its citizens. This, according to the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, would be in tandem with the bank's new anti-corruption and good governance strategy.
The appeal came after the arbitrary arrest and detention of a leading anti-corruption campaigner - Christian Mounzeo - in oil-rich Congo Brazzaville on Monday. Mr Mounzéo was accused of criticising the government for misusing its large oil revenues while on a trip abroad.
Nor sooner had he arrived at the airport after he had returned from an advocacy trip in Europe than he was arrested by the police. Brazzaville authorities later told him that his arrest had to do with "defaming" President Denis Sassou-Nguesso during his recent trip to Europe.
The police held Mr Mounzéo in custody overnight and then escorted him to a court hearing in Pointe-Noire related to charges filed in April against him and a colleague on a separate matter, also believed to be in retaliation for their anti-corruption campaigning.
Mr Mounzéo is the founder and president of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Engagement for Peace and Human Rights (Rencontre pour la paix et les droits de l'Homme). He is the Congo Brazzaville coordinator of the Publish What You Pay campaign, an international NGO initiative that promotes transparency and accountability in the use of natural resource revenues around the world.
In addition, Mr Mounzéo is an NGO representative to the British government-sponsored Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Prior to his arrest on Monday, Mr Mounzéo had travelled abroad to attend several official EITI meetings and engage in other advocacy related to oil revenue transparency.
"The government in Congo Brazzaville is trying to silence anticorruption activists instead of addressing corruption," Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch said. "When activists allege that the government is misusing the country's oil wealth, the authorities respond by arresting them," he added.
Congo-Brazzaville is the sixth largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, and oil sales account for 94 percent of the country's export earnings. The country ranked 142 out of 163 countries in Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The country recently qualified for debt relief under the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. However, the decision was controversial and was partly premised on improvements in governance and transparency in the use of oil revenues. The government of President Sassou-Nguesso, which came back to power after a civil war in 1997, has also joined EITI.
"Citizens should not fear arrests when they are trying to determine how public funds are used," said Mr Ganesan. "A government can hardly be seen as a credible partner in any international transparency initiative when it repeatedly arrests the country's foremost anticorruption campaigners. This is a crucial test for the World Bank's new anticorruption strategy," the human rights activist held.
On 6 April this year, police arrested Mr Mounzéo and another anticorruption activist, Brice Mackosso, a member of the Catholic Church Peace and Justice Commission (Commission justice et paix de l'Eglise catholique). They were released only to be re-arrested the following day and remained in custody until 28 April, when they were released on bail.
The arrests generated widespread international attention, with the World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz criticising the government of Congo Brazzaville. It was thus charged with "breach of trust [and] complicity in breach of trust and forgery" allegedly related to the misuse of funds from a nongovernmental organization that Mr Mounzéo founded.
A judge initially dropped some of the charges against Mr Mounzéo, but the prosecutor is appealing that decision in order to reinstate them. The court released Mr Mounzéo and adjourned the case to 28 November. But Human Rights Watch believes that the case is only a pretext to harass the men for being outspoken against official corruption and mismanagement of oil revenue.
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