Smith Urges Administration to Help Free American Held in Congo-Brazzaville
As the nation continues to mourn the death of Otto Warmbier—the American student who died after being held in horrendous conditions by the North Korean regime for 17 months—Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on Africa and global human rights, is calling on the State Department to increase their efforts to free a naturalized American citizen being held without charge by the government of Congo-Brazzaville since March 2016.
“The principle of due process demands that Congo-Brazzaville should have released Marcel Pika long ago, but the government continues to ignore their own laws and continue his imprisonment without charging him or bringing him to trial,” Smith said. “As the long overdue release and untimely death of Otto Warmbier underscores, every American Administration, no matter the party, must bring pressure on the bad actors of the world—and push ever harder for the release of Pika, another American held in harsh conditions, before another tragedy occurs.”
Pika had fled Congo-Brazzaville in the 1990s during President Denis Sassou-Nguesso’s first term in office. With the help of the United Nations in 1999, he sought refuge in Lincoln, Nebraska, and became a U.S. citizen in 2005. A retired colonel who once served in the Congolese armed forces, Pika wanted to live out his life in his home country and returned there in 2007. His family believes Pika was arrested for supporting the opposition against President Sassou-Nguesso.
Pika is a diabetic, and his son, Percy, said his father has lost a lot of weight and is living in what he described as “grim” conditions. According to the current State Department human rights report, the Government of Congo-Brazzaville is guilty of numerous human rights violations, including politically motivated disappearances, harsh detention conditions and a lack of judicial due process.