OTTAWA - A young Canadian man jailed in Congo following the country's tense presidential elections has been freed and could return home within the next week, a friend says.
Fabien Kalala, a 24-year-old Ottawa resident, was supposed to return to Ottawa to spend Christmas with his family. They grew worried when they didn't hear from him.
They later found out that Kalala was one of dozens of people picked up off the streets of Kinchasa in the wake of the elections, which have been called into question by international observers.
On Saturday morning, family and friends received notice that Kalala had been released.
John Kabengele, a family friend, said Kalala met with his lawyer Saturday and had plans to get checked out by a doctor following his time in jail.
Kabengele said he could soon be reunited with his family in Ottawa.
"It's gonna be bigger than Christmas, that's for sure," Kabengele said.
Kalala's family and friends believe he was jailed because of his links to opposition politician Etienne Tshisekedi, who challenged current President Joseph Kabila for the presidency.
Kalala had travelled to Kinshasa to volunteer on Tshisekedi's campaign, as the two families are related, according to his brother.
A spokesman for Consular Affairs Minister Diane Ablonczy confirmed Kalala's release on Saturday.
"Consular assistance was provided and we are pleased Mr. Kalala has been released," John Babcock said in an email.
While Babcock wouldn't say what role the Canadian government played in his release, Kabengele praised foreign affairs for its efforts.
"We know that they did a lot of lobbying behind the scenes to get him freed, and we are very thankful for that," he said.
Kabila was sworn-in as president on Dec. 20, but Tshisekedi insists he is the victor and declared himself president.
The November elections were the first contested by Tshisekedi, a veteran politician and longtime critic of Congo's dictatorship who boycotted the 2006 ballot, the first democratic election in nearly half a century.
In the 2011 ballot, the Congolese election commission said Kabila won 49 per cent of the vote, with Tshisekedi capturing 32 per cent.
But the election was marred by accusations of fraud and violence. The U.S.-based Carter Centre said the results "lack credibility''
Human Rights Watch said more than two dozen people were killed in the weeks following the vote, and hundreds more injured, while Amnesty International reported dozens of arrests amid growing political tensions.
Both the United States and the European Union have expressed alarm over the electoral results, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for a review of the process by Congolese and international officials.
Canada has taken a less forceful position.
Earlier this week, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird urged "all parties to exercise calm and restraint."
Human rights observers have criticized Canada for not doing enough to uphold Congo's young democracy.
Protests have been held in Ottawa and Toronto over what many Congolese considered a fraudulent election.
Kabengele also said he'd like to see Canada take a stronger stance.
"The Canadian government is just keeping quiet," he said. "We want them to take a strong stance against dictatorship... We understand that there is a Canadian mining interest there. But the thing is, the cost is too high."
Canadian investments and assets in the country's mining sector were estimated at $1.73 billion in 2010, according to the Foreign Affairs website.
- by Benjamin Shingler in Montreal