Kinshasa - A vocal human rights group urged the Democratic Republic of Congo government on Thursday to guarantee people's right to protest, highlighting mounting tension ahead of next year's presidential elections.
"Freedoms of association, of peaceful gathering and of demonstration are fundamental guaranteed rights," said the Congolese Action for Access to Justice (ACAJ) group.
"The exercise of these freedoms ... cannot be considered an offence," an ACAJ statement said.
The plea came a day after Dr Congo's public prosecutor Flory Kabange Numbi warned people "who call on the population to take to the streets" that they face "penalties provided for by the law" under Article 64 of the constitution.
Political tension has risen in the country in the last months ahead of a presidential vote due late next year which President Laurent Kabila, who has been in office since 2001, cannot contest under the current constitution.
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No date has yet been set for the election, and last weekend Kabila said he hoped to organise a "national dialogue" aimed at reaching a wide consensus to enable "appeased elections" to go ahead.
But much of the opposition has announced it will boycott any such forum, saying it is a trap to enable Kabila to extend his constitutional stay in office beyond 2016.
Late November, the influential Roman Catholic church also urged the Congolese to ensure any such "national dialogue" took place "within the respect of the constitutional framework."
This week, the leader of the main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), 82-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi, said his party "did not feel involved in the dialogue in the form that was announced by Kabila".
The opposition wants the authorities instead to release an electoral timetable fixing the date of a presidential poll within constitutional delays.