The staff of Panzi Hospital in eastern DRC spent their turn of the year demonstrating in front of the local tax office of South Kivu's provincial capital, Bukavu. On December 30, the hospital announced that government tax authorities claimed that the hospital had not paid a tax bill of 500,000 euros ($602,000). In a statement, the Panzi Foundation wrote that authorities seized 38,000 euros and froze the hospital's accounts. The freeze not only affected daily routine in the hospital, but also blocked the salaries of its 370 employees.
On Friday (02.01.2015), the government was not available for comment on the matter. Panzi Hospital, as well as groups and individuals which support its work, posted pictures of the staff protest on New Year's Eve on the social network Twitter:
Located on the southern end of Lake Kivu, Panzi Hospital and its head doctor Denis Mukwege, has made a name for itself due to its reparative surgery for victims of sexual violence. According to the UN, over 3,600 rape cases were reported in DRC between 2010 and 2013. The 59-year-old doctor received several international awards for his work, including the EU's Sakharov Prize and the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the alternative Nobel Peace Prize. In a press release, the foundation's incoming executive in the US, Naam Haviv, said that the hospital's work must continue and that the treatment of rape victims, maternal and newborn care, were all at risk.
Mukwege told news agencies that he saw the freezing of the hospital's accounts as unjustified and said Panzi hospital had been singled out by the government. The hospital's lawyer, Patient Bashombe, similarly told reporters that seizing the hospital's accounts was illegal and that "no public hospital in DRC has ever paid tax." The Panzi Foundation argued that it is registered under the non-profit organization Pentecostal Churches in Central Africa (CEPAC) and that as a national referral center, it should be exempt from taxes.
Local human rights activists told news agencies they believe that the hospital is being targeted due to Mukwege's recent criticism of the government. "Our country is sick but together with our friends around the world, we can and will heal," Mukwege said as he received the Sakharov Prize in November last year. In 2012, Mukwege's family had to flee the country after an attack on his residence in Bukavu. He returned to the country in 2013.