Democratic Republic of Congo’s prime minister protested on Sunday over the brief arrest of the justice minister, saying the coalition government could resign over the issue and calling on the president to guarantee cabinet members’ legal protections.
Justice Minister Celestin Tunda was detained by police on Saturday evening and released following several hours of questioning by prosecutors at the court of cassation, triggering a political storm within the ruling coalition.
“This serious and unprecedented incident is likely to weaken the stability and the harmonious functioning of institutions, and to cause the resignation of the government,” Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga said in a statement.
Tunda has clashed with President Felix Tshisekedi over judicial changes proposed by Tunda’s party that would give the justice ministry more control over criminal prosecutions. Opponents of the change say it would undermine the independence of the judiciary.
The disagreement has highlighted strains in the ruling coalition between Tshisekedi and allies of his long-serving predecessor, Joseph Kabila.
Kabila stepped down in 2019, but maintains wide-ranging powers through his parliamentary majority and control of most cabinet ministries and the prime minister’s office. Tunda is a heavyweight in Kabila’s PPRD party.
“No member of the government can be prosecuted for opinions expressed during deliberations of the council of ministers,” Ilunga said referring to Friday’s meeting where Tshisekedi and Tunda reportedly quarreled over the judicial changes.
Ilunga said the magistrates responsible for what he called Tunda’s “brutal and arbitrary arrest” should face disciplinary action.
Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019, forming a coalition with Kabila, but the alliance has shown increasing signs of disharmony.
Hundreds of protesters rallied against the planned law on the grounds of parliament on Wednesday. They were dispersed by police firing tear gas and water cannon.