Congo jails American farmer for more than 450 days without being charged, State Dept., family say

Perry Chiaramonte

The family of a naturalized American citizen says that he has been unjustly jailed for over 16 months by the president of his native country in Africa.

Marcel Pika, 70, has been imprisoned by authorities in the Republic of Congo for over 450 days without a single charge levied against him. Pika, a retired colonel who served in the Congo’s military, has been detained since March 2016 after he arrested in the wake of a presidential election. That election set off violent protests when President Denis Sassou-Nuguesso, who has been accused of vast human-rights violations, won a controversial third term.

Pika and his wife have raised a family on their Nebraska farm since they fled the Republic in 1999. They became U.S. citizens in 2005, but two years later they went back to their homeland to start another farm in the Pointe-Noire region along Africa’s Atlantic coast.

Pika’s family, many of whom are still in the Midwest, say that their father has been wrongfully detained because he was a member of an opposition party and did not vote for Sassou-Nuguesso.

“My father was one of the guys who helped start the first democratic elections in the country,” Pika’s son, Percy Pika, who resides in Nebraska, said to Fox News. “He was arrested just because he knows the president’s opposition [Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko] in the elections.”

Pika says that his father was taken captive from his farm by armed guards who work for Sassou-Nuguesso on March 31. He was taken away shirtless in an unmarked vehicle just days after the 2016 Congolese elections and taken to the capital of Brazzaville where he was thrown into prison. Pika’s son maintains that he was jailed because he did not vote in the president’s favor.

Since being incarcerated, Marcel Pika has seen his health decline. His son Percy tells Fox News that his father has since developed cysts on his kidneys and lungs as well as severe sciatic nerve pain. His family fears that he may not survive in there.

“My family is coping with a very difficult situation,” he says. “We live every day under stress.”

Percy adds that his father has been held without any due process, without being charged with any offense.

“The Republic of the Congo has broken their own laws,” Pika says. “The [Republic of Congo] law states that no one can be arrested for more than four months without being proven guilty and that they have the right to a two-month extension to hold someone in prison. So far, the Congolese government has performed over five extensions in regards to my father’s case.”

“There are hundreds of political prisoners that are being held as well as my father in the same prison for the same reasons.”

The U.S. State Department has also been making efforts to secure Pika’s release. They say that he should have been released after six months if there were no charges brought forth.

“The Department of State is deeply concerned about Mr. Pika’s continued detention,” a State Department Official says to Fox News. “We call on the Congolese government to respect due process and human rights. Department officials have raised this case directly with senior Congolese government officials. Since his arrest, consular officers from the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville have visited Mr. Pika regularly, and they are providing all possible consular assistance.”

Officials for the U.S. Embassy for the Republic of Congo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In the decade since he has been in power, controversy has surrounded Sassou-Nuguesso.

He first came into power in 1979 and held his presidential position for 13 years before losing an election in 1992. Five years later, after a civil war, he regained power. He has been alleged to have killed 10,000 people and displaced thousands more, according to The New York Times.

In last year’s election, Sassou-Nuguesso won 60 percent of the vote, but opposition candidates say it was a rigged victory. During the period of election, the government cut off television broadcasts and internet access. 

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @perrych