, KINSHASA, Jan 24- Forty people have died in protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo against President Joseph Kabila, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday, accusing security forces of using excessive force and then trying to remove evidence.
The number of people who have died in DR Congo over the past week in demonstrations against a bill that could extend Kabila’s time in power is contested, with the government saying the protests had left 12 dead and a global human rights organisation saying 42 had died.
HRW said in a statement on Saturday that it has confirmed 36 dead in protests in the capital Kinshasa, 21 of whom were fatally shot by security forces, and four dead in the eastern city of Goma.
“Congolese security forces have fired into crowds of demonstrators with deadly results,” Ida Sawyer, a senior researcher at HRW said in the statement. “People should be allowed to express their views and peacefully protest without the fear of being killed or arrested.”
“Human Rights Watch documented a number of instances in which police or Republican Guard soldiers took away the bodies of those shot in an apparent attempt to remove evidence of the killings,” said the HRW statement, adding the soldiers had also fired indiscriminately at a hospital.
It said that many of the demonstrations had turned violent after security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the crowds, with demonstrators hurling rocks at security forces and going on looting and burning rampages of shops and offices of perceived government supporters.
The contested bill — which many see as an attempt by Kabila to stay in power — was passed by the country’s lower house of parliament a week ago, but after the days of deadly protests, the Senate on Friday backed down and voted unanimously to amend the legislation.
A joint commission of both houses of parliament is now due to meet to try to hammer out an agreement on an amended bill.