In May 2016, a delegation of miners met with MMR to request better prices, but the company refused.
Valentin and some of the others decided to strike, and a large crowd of miners ended up blocking access to the mine. Valentin said they harassed no one but simply demonstrated, saying, â€œNo organisations owned by foreigners will be allowed to come and conduct its activitiesâ€¦ until the price is increased.â€
At the end of that day, MMR increased the price from $20 to $22 per kilo. When the police reportedly fired shots in the air, the miners dispersed and returned to town.
But a little later on, more than a dozen protesters, including Valentin, were arrested by the mining police, tied up in MMRâ€™s compound for several hours, thrown into one of MMRâ€™s cars, and taken to Kalemie (half a dayâ€™s drive away), where they were jailed overnight, according to several miners and independent eyewitnesses.
There, they were accused of being armed rebels and only released after the provincial governor, Richard Kitangala, intervened.
A local MMR representative said the car had been commandeered by the police and denied that the miners were held in its compound.
Contacted by email, MMRâ€™s head office responded: â€œWe know nothing of the specifics that are referred to here.â€ The head of the mining police responsible for the area said he was not authorised to speak with journalists and could not provide a spokesperson.
Similar protests against MMRâ€™s monopoly have occurred routinely over the years. In 2011, UN investigators foundthat when miners protested the coltan price in another of MMRâ€™s mines, the police and army were deployed. The report said: â€œLive rounds were fired, and two civilians were killed." But MMR told IRIN: â€œWe doubt this is true, as we have never heard of such incident.â€