A mob in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), looted and set Indian-owned businesses and vehicles ablaze on Thursday as tensions escalated following the death of Congolese computer science student Joel Malu while in the custody of Indian police.
Malu, 27, was arrested in Bangalore two weeks ago for carrying ecstasy pills and traveling on an expired student visa. He suffered cardiac arrest and died on Monday morning while in custody.
Indian police officials said Malu was diagnosed with Bradycardia, an abnormally slow heart rate that can leave patients with insufficiently oxygenated blood. The police said CPR and “other life-saving interventions” were applied when Malu went into cardiac arrest, but he died despite their best efforts.
Congolese demonstrators accused the Indian police of detaining Malu under false pretenses and lying about the circumstances of his death. African immigrants began holding protests in Bangalore the day after Malu’s death, led by personal friends who claimed the police fabricated the drug charges against Malu and suspected his death was caused by physical abuse while in custody.
“Was Joel tortured? How could he have died like that? He was doing well before this. Now, we are afraid to go out and be arrested, since the police are still looking for people who participated in the protest,” a friend who claimed he was with Malu an hour before his arrest said last Friday.
The initial autopsy report in Bangalore listed Malu’s cause of death as “asphyxiation” and said no signs of physical abuse were found on his body.
Protesters in Bangalore clashed with police several times over the past week, complaining that excessive police force was used to disperse their demonstrations. Meanwhile, mobs in Kinshasa and another DRC city, Lubumbashi, began vandalizing Indian-owned shops.
#Kinshasa: Pillage ce jeudi contre les magasins et dépôts tenus par des sujets indiens à 9éme rue Limete industriel, à la suite "d'une fausse rumeur malicieusement distillée dans l'opinion faisant état d'un deuxième congolais qui serait tué en Inde", dénonce la police pic.twitter.com/FvxBO9Ajml
— Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala (@StanysBujakera) August 12, 2021
Indian-owned cars were pelted with stones and set on fire in the Limete neighborhood of Kinshasa during Thursday’s riot, while more shops were burned and looted. The violence was reportedly made worse by a false rumor that another Congolese had died while in the custody of Indian police.
“Uncivilized people, mainly young people, have been looting stores and warehouses held by Indian nationals,” Kinshasa police commissioner Sylvano Kasongo Kitenge said Thursday.
Kinshasa police reported making several arrests and recovering some clothing looted from Indian shops. Kitenge promised Indian residents their persons and property would be protected, and said an investigation is underway to find those who spread the false rumor of another Congolese death in India.