DR Congo justice minister arrested in crisis over judicial reforms


Kinshasa (AFP)

DR Congo's justice minister was arrested on Saturday, the latest twist in a crisis over proposed judicial reforms that have triggered violent street protests.

The action against Celestin Tunda Ya Kasende came a day after he clashed with President Felix Tshisekedi over the contested legal changes, according to a ministerial source.

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

Tunda Ya Kasenda, 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.

He was taken to the prosecutor's office, according to lawmaker Felix Kabange Numbi.

The controversial reforms include proposals to define the powers of judges, which critics say 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 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 and some 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 that 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".