US Gives Political Asylum to Congolese Performance Artist

Artist Toto Kisaku, who was jailed in the Democratic Republic of Congo for putting on performances that were critical of the country’s government, was granted asylum by the United States this month.

The thirty-nine-year-old artist toured the Congo, organizing theater productions. Among the issues addressed in his plays are the abuse of children at the hands of religious officials and the subsequent deception of the clergy members who informed the victim’s parents that their children were practicing witchcraft; the dysfunction and economic hardships in the nation’s capital, Kinshasa; and government oppression.

In 2015, Kisaku was detained for seven days, following student protests against President Joseph Kabila. During that time he claims he saw his fellow inmates get killed in prison. He was allegedly released when a guard refused to carry out his execution when he recognized him as the artist behind the performances. He then fled to the United States with his son and now lives in Middletown, Connecticut.

Sheila Hayre, a law professor at Quinnipiac University who helped Kisaku with his bid for asylum, told AFP that his fame has worked in his favor since it has made his history easier to document. The US was able to review testimonies from people in other countries who praised his work on raising awareness about corruption.

Kisaku is currently working on a new one-man show that will be based on his experiences in the Congo. Titled Requiem for an Electric Chair, the production will take place at the International Festival of Art and Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut, in June.