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DRC Tutsies Claim Voter Suppression

FILE: Illustration of members of the Banyamulenge community. Taken Aug. 31, 2018.
FILE: Illustration of members of the Banyamulenge community. Taken Aug. 31, 2018.

Philippe Ruhara, a local representative of the Tutsi ethnic group in South Kivu province known as the Banyamulenge, said members of his community had received anonymous leaflets warning them not to vote - part of a hostile campaign that has also seen groups of young men gather at registration centers to deter would-be Tutsi voters.

The state representative in Nyangezi, Papy Migabo, said on Sunday local authorities and the police had intervened after such incidents were reported in February. Since then "enrolment is going well and we hope that it will continue like this," he told Reuters.

There is no data on how many Banyamulenge have been prevented or deterred from registering to vote since enrolment kicked off in South Kivu on Feb. 16.

Enock Sebineza, a prominent community elder and former deputy minister, told Reuters he was aware of numerous cases of intimidation in South Kivu and elsewhere, including in the eastern city of Goma and the capital Kinshasa.

"Today, unfortunately, hate speech based on how you look is excluding us from the country and we are excluded from the electoral process," he said.

Everyone with the appropriate voter card has the right to register to vote, said Godens Maheshe, head of the election commission in South Kivu province.

"Citizens must respect the law," he told Reuters.

The United Nations has expressed concern about the spread of hate speech in the run-up to the vote, particularly towards the Banyamulenge.

On Feb. 27, President Felix Tshisekedi addressed the issue in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"The Congolese government stands firm against any individual or group of individuals who would engage in such a speech and reiterates its request to every person, organization or external partner to denounce it."