Supporters of a jailed Christian sect leader attacked the prison holding him in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, freeing him and about 50 other inmates early on Wednesday, the government spokesman said.

Ne Muanda Nsemi - a self-styled prophet and leader of the Bundu dia Kongo movement - was arrested in March after a series of deadly clashes between his supporters and police, government spokesman Lambert Mende said.

Witnesses said they had heard gunfire coming from near Makala prison at around 4 a.m. (11.00 p.m. ET) and saw prisoners wearing blue shirts with yellow collars in the streets.

Soldiers were also stopping young men for questioning near Nsemi's house in the Kinshasa district of Ngaliema and arresting some of them, a Reuters witness said.

Justice minister Alexis Thambwe told a local radio station that, aside from Nsemi, the prison's most prominent prisoners had not managed to escape.

Nsemi has a strong follow following in southwestern Congo and wants to revive the Kongo kingdom, which flourished for centuries around the mouth of the Congo River.