Politics

DRC justice minister arrested after conflict over judicial reforms

Célestin Tunda is released after questioning a day after he clashed with the president
A protester gestures towards a police officer during a protest about legal reforms near the parliament in Kinshasa on 24 June. Photograph: Arsene Mpiana/AFP/Getty Images
A protester gestures towards a police officer during a protest about legal reforms near the parliament in Kinshasa on 24 June. Photograph: Arsene Mpiana/AFP/Getty Images

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s justice minister, Célestin Tunda ya Kasende, was released from custody on Saturday just hours after his arrest in the capital Kinshasa, the city’s chief of police said.

Tunda was questioned by prosecutors for several hours at the court of cassation after surrendering to police at his home on Saturday afternoon.

“He’s been released,” said Kinshasa’s police chief, Sylvano Kasongo.

The action against Tunda on Saturday came a day after he clashed with President Félix Tshisekedi over the contested legal changes, according to a ministerial source.

The reforms, proposed by supporters of the still influential former president Joseph Kabila, have caused a damaging rift in the fragile government coalition.

Tunda, a lawyer by profession, had told AFP by phone shortly before his arrest that about a dozen officers had surrounded his Kinshasa home.

“I am serene. I’m a member of the government and I have immunity,” said the minister, a supporter of Kabila.

The controversial reforms include proposals to define the powers of judges, which critics said is a ploy to muzzle the judiciary. They were put forward by the Common Front for Congo (FCC), a coalition close to Kabila, who remains a behind-the-scenes force in national politics.

The FCC, in which Tunda is a senior figure, sits in an uneasy coalition with Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and it accounts for most of the 66 government ministers as well as the prime minister.

Over two days this week, angry demonstrators, mainly UDPS supporters, some of whom were armed with petrol bombs, blocked traffic outside parliament, erecting barriers and burning tyres in a protest over the legal changes.

Former parliament speaker Aubin Minaku, one of the people behind the proposed amendments, said this week the aim of the reforms was “to define the authority the justice ministry exercises over the judges”.

But Tshisekedi’s party on Monday lambasted the proposals as a ploy to “undermine the independence of the judiciary and increase the power of the justice ministry”.

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