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Protest Letter: In DRC, a nationwide pattern of attacks raises alarm

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Committee to Protect Journalists - June 27, 2007

June 27, 2007

His Excellency Joseph Kabila
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo
c/o Embassy of the DRC to the United States
1800 New Hampshire Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20009

Via Facsimile: (202) 234-2609

Mr. President,

We are writing to express our alarm at a disturbing nationwide pattern of attacks on the news media. Since the arrival of your government on February 24, eight broadcasters were raided by government security forces in connection with their news coverage, and one journalist was killed amid increasingly insecure conditions, according to CPJ research. These events undermine Information Minister Toussaint Tshilombo’s statement on World Press Freedom Day that press freedom is respected in the DRC.

The attacks on the press are apparent across the country. In the capital, Kinshasa, authorities forcibly shut down three broadcasters close to the opposition for one month and jailed a newspaper director for five days. On March 21, Canal Congo TV (CCTV), Canal Kin TV (CKTV) and Radio Liberté Kinshasa—broadcasters owned by opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba—were pulled off the air without explanation, according to news reports and accounts by the press freedom organization Journaliste en Danger (JED). Also in the capital, Director Jean-Pierre Phambu Lutete of La Tolerance was arrested on May 6 for five days on an unsubstantiated extortion charge.

In areas that have enjoyed relative stability, signs of hostility toward the media have now emerged. In Mbuji-Mayi, central Eastern Kasaï province, the private station Radiotélévision Debout Kasaï was shut down for a week on orders of Gov. Ngoyi Kasanji and DRC’s High Authority on Media (HAM) after a single anonymous caller criticized the governor. This order was carried out despite an official statement from the Ministry of Information asserting that HAM no longer holds authority under the new government.

Nearly two weeks later, JED and local journalists reported a police raid on a local chapter meeting of the Congolese National Press Union (known by its French acronym UNPC). Journalist had convened to discuss the recent closure of Radiotélévision Debout Kasaï. Several journalists sustained injuries during the raid.

In the Western Kasaï town of Luebo, authorities shut down the community station Radio ODL for a month and a half beginning in March, after local Police Chief Oscar Malongi accused the station of spreading “hate messages,” according to news reports
and local journalists.  On June 9, the deputy chief of the Congolese National Intelligence Agency Gustave Amuri forced the private Radio Canal Satellite off the air for “operating without ANR documents,” and “broadcasting in bad French.”

In eastern North Kivu province, police in Butembo forced off the air public broadcaster Radio Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) and private Radio Télévision Graben on March 7 in connection with broadcasts critical of the local mayor’s response to a citywide strike. 

And in South Kivu province, journalist Minyanya Wasso of private Radio Liberté in the town of Kamituga was jailed for two days on March 27 on charges of incitement to sedition and contempt to authority. Wasso, the host of a civic education program, had cited a constitutional protection against forced labor in response to an official announcement summoning the public to mandatory community development projects, according to private daily Le Potentiel and JED.
 
We are also concerned about growing insecurity for journalists as evidenced by the June 13 killing of Serge Maheshe, an editor for the United Nations-sponsored Radio Okapi in the South Kivu border town of Bukavu. Maheshe was gunned down while he was preparing to board a U.N. vehicle with two friends. CPJ is investigating to determine whether the killing was linked to his professional work; we urge authorities to pursue all leads as to the motive.

Six days after Maheshe’s murder, another Radio Okapi editor, Basile Bakumbane fled to Kinshasa from his station in the Western Kasaï town of Kananga after receiving several threats linked to a June 7 story about the sacking of the local governor, he later told CPJ.  Finally, in Kinshasa, RTNC journalist Anne-Marie Kalanga was shot in the legs on June 17 after gunmen wearing police uniforms attempted to force their way into her home, according to news reports.

We call on you to use all your influence to ensure that national as well as provincial authorities conduct thorough, timely, and transparent investigations into these attacks. The recent attacks and others documented by CPJ led us in May to name the DRC as one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.

The fundamental rights of press freedom and freedom of expression are guaranteed in articles 27 and 28 of the Transitional Constitution. We urge you and your administration to do everything in your power to ensure that these essential democratic guarantees are upheld.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon


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