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Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Democratic Republic of Congo

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Democratic Republic of Congo, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5669d23.html [accessed 29 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

President Joseph Kabila's transition government was inaugurated in June, after warring parties signed a power-sharing deal in December 2002 that ended a devastating four-year civil war. The peace accord keeps Kabila in power until 2005, with four vice presidents from both the armed and unarmed opposition. In 2005, the country will hold its first elections since independence in 1960. While foreign observers praised Kabila for the accord, local journalists remain skeptical about the new government's willingness and ability to ensure press freedom in the ravaged nation.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) transition constitution mandates the establishment of a High Authority on Media, a body meant to act both as a media watchdog and guarantor of press freedom. The authority, which Parliament has yet to approve, had not been created by year's end. However, the government chose Modeste Mutinga, a longtime independent journalist and CPJ International Press Freedom Award recipient in 2000, to head it. Mutinga, who will have the rank of minister, is well respected, and, in addition to having been a frequent target of harassment himself, he has been an outspoken advocate of media freedom in the DRC. But his job will not be easy, in part because the new body's mandate and enforcement powers are unclear.

Congolese journalists have little protection from harassment, government-orchestrated or otherwise. They seldom have legal recourse, partly because of the high cost of legal representation, and partly because the judicial system is subject to influence from powerful local figures who are often the ones harassing journalists, according to local sources. Some local human rights organizations and press freedom groups, such as the Kinshasa-based Journaliste en Danger (JED), actively denounce abuses throughout the country. While JED has had some degree of success in raising awareness of the challenges faced by journalists, researchers at the organization say that court cases opened on behalf of local journalists are rarely resolved, and most often the perpetrators of harassment go unpunished.

Attacks against the press are often orchestrated by powerful local figures, including private citizens, members of the government, and military and former rebel officials. The most common forms of harassment are arbitrary arrests, physical aggression, and intimidation; local sources say that police officers and members of the military are often paid to arrest and detain journalists. For example, in August, National Police officers arrested Guy Kasongo Kilembwe, editor-in-chief of the Kinshasa-based satirical newspaper Pot-Pourri. Local sources told CPJ they believe that Kilembwe was arrested on the orders of Parliament member Pius Mwabilu, who is also the general manager of the media company Radiotélévision Groupe L'Avenir and publisher of the pro-government daily L'Avenir (The Future). After arresting Kilembwe, officers took him to a police station, where Mwabilu confronted him, saying, "You humiliated me in your newspaper, and now I am going to make you suffer." On August 22, Pot-Pourri published a front-page article alleging that Mwabilu had used funds earmarked for collective use by parliamentarians to launch his media company. Kilembwe was released without charge after five days of detention.

The most sensitive topics journalists can cover are government corruption, shifting alliances within the new transition government, and foreign sponsorship of ex-rebel factions that continue to maintain economic networks and military links. The latter includes alleged Rwandan military support for the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) in the eastern region of Goma, and the financial and military support that senior Ugandan military officials have provided to local militias in the northeastern Ituri region to safeguard their economic interests in the DRC.

RCD authorities, unaccustomed to criticism, kept a tight grip on information in areas under their control. In May, RCD agents arrested and detained Joseph Nkinzo, director of the Anglican community radio station Sauti ya Rehema (Voice of Mercy), in Bukavu, a town near the Rwandan border. Local journalists said the arrest stemmed from broadcasts commenting on the RCD's decision to withdraw from negotiations establishing the national transition government. (The RCD later rejoined the talks.)

Media that criticize the Kabila administration are also subject to threats and censorship from authorities. In early June, the Congolese National Police raided and closed the Kinshasa-based Radiotélévision Message de Vie (Message of Life), a religious broadcaster owned by the prominent and outspoken evangelical minister Fernando Kutino. Kutino, who had developed a large following, had recently started a political television campaign called "Save the Congo." The campaign included thinly veiled criticisms of Kabila's government and called on citizens to take responsibility for the future of their country. Kutino fled the country soon after the raid. According to JED, the radio station began broadcasting again in December using new equipment financed by the church, but Kutino remained in exile at year's end.

Conditions for Congolese media professionals vary throughout the country. Because the transition government has not extended its authority throughout the DRC, media workers continue to be at the mercy of local officials who operate with impunity. This is particularly true in the eastern and northern areas of the country, which were previously controlled by powerful rebel movements whose leaders have been incorporated into the transition government, leaving a temporary power vacuum. In those areas, local authorities – whether they are longtime civil servants or political appointees – generally apply their own ad hoc policies on media freedom.

The ambiguity over who is in charge has led to a number of media abuses. In early August, Alimasi Mayanga, a programming director for the state-run broadcaster Radio Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) in the northern city of Kisangani, was reprimanded by local authorities for not broadcasting Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) political propaganda programs. An RCD official threatened Mayanga with suspension, saying that the RCD was still in charge. Though the RTNC was created by the national government, control of RTNC stations varies according to the regional authority. Weeks later, newly appointed Information Minister Vital Kamerhe clarified that the federal government in Kinshasa would make programming decisions thereafter.

With the peace accords, access to previously closed-off areas has increased. But local journalists are generally limited to taking U.N.-organized trips, while foreign journalists with the financial resources to travel can go unaccompanied. Travel to areas such as the volatile Ituri region and North and South Kivu provinces can be extremely dangerous due to the ongoing presence of heavily armed rival militias and remaining rebel forces.

In late June, local journalist Acquitté Kisembo disappeared in Bunia, the main city in the Ituri region. Kisembo, who was working as a fixer for Agence France-Presse, has not been found. Journalists suspect that he was kidnapped and killed by militiamen loyal to Thomas Lubanga, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the rebel group that controlled the town of Bunia until mid-June. The motives for the kidnapping remain unclear.

Local journalists usually cannot access information from other parts of the country. Radio Okapi, created jointly by the U.N. Mission in the Congo and the Switzerland-based Hirondelle Foundation, remains the only source of news available nationally, with local affiliates and relay stations in 11 Congolese cities. Recently, several mobile phone networks were extended to most major cities, which will likely have a positive impact on journalists' ability to gather information from these areas.

However, limited financial resources hamper news gathering. Because journalists in the DRC remain severely underpaid, it is difficult for them to remain independent, and local sources say that many journalists are susceptible to bribes. According to JED, most local journalists have no contracts with their employers and often work on a project basis, so taking bribes is sometimes the only way journalists can support themselves.

A December report from JED noted there had been some improvement in press freedom conditions in the DRC during 2003, with the average duration of imprisonment for press offenses decreasing. For the first time in years, no journalists were in prison for their work in the DRC at year's end. JED attributes the improvements to the stabilizing security situation after the peace accords, as well as an increased sense of accountability on the part of officials in the new government. In December, JED launched a national campaign to decriminalize press offenses.


2003 Documented Cases – Democratic Republic of the Congo

MARCH 1, 2003

Radiotélévision Amazone
CENSORED

Radiotélévision Amazone (RTA), a private broadcaster based in Mbuji-Mayi, the capital of East Kasai Province, was closed on orders of Province Director Mutonj Mayand-a-Tshibang, local sources said.

According to the Congolese press freedom group Journaliste En Danger (JED), which contacted RTA journalists, the station was accused of airing "unpleasant comments" and "false news" on its February 25 broadcast of a local-language program called "The Voice of the Digger."

The program included a report on the recent controversial deaths of miners in a local diamond mine. Congolese authorities claim that seven miners suffocated to death when one of the tunnels collapsed. Local human rights groups say the death toll was much higher and that security agents from the firm that owns the mine may have intentionally suffocated the miners.

"The Voice of the Digger" was banned on February 28 over the same story, JED reported. RTA was allowed to resume broadcasting on March 25, after protests from local journalists' and human rights groups. José Kadima, the radio station's director, told CPJ that RTA was still prohibited from broadcasting "The Voice of the Digger."

APRIL 23, 2003

Richard Malango, Tropicana TV
HARASSED

Malango, a cameraman for the private, Kinshasa-based TV channel Tropicana TV, was arrested while filming a demonstration by the opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). He was detained for four hours for questioning at a Kinshasa police station, according to Malango and the Congolese press freedom organization Journaliste En Danger. The journalist's equipment was confiscated and returned only after footage of UDPS activists had been erased, Malango said.

MAY 28, 2003

Joseph Nkinzo, Sauti ya Rehema
HARASSED

Sauti ya Rehema
CENSORED

Agents of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), a rebel movement controlling a large portion of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, arrested Joseph Nkinzo, director of the Anglican community radio station Sauti ya Rehema (Voice of Mercy), in Bukavu, South Kivu Province.

The station had earlier broadcast commentary on the RCD's decision to withdraw from negotiations to establish a multiparty national transitional government. (The RCD has since rejoined the talks.) Journalists in the capital, Kinshasa, told CPJ that RCD spokesperson Jean-Pierre Lola Kisanga claimed that the station had violated RCD media guidelines by broadcasting political content even though it is only allowed to air programs about religion and development.

Nkinzo was released the next day. RCD authorities in Bukavu said that Sauti ya Rehema would be allowed to continue broadcasting only on the conditions that it air news bulletins from the RCD-controlled RTNC station, and that it cease all political programming and broadcast only religious content. According to the press freedom group Journaliste En Danger, though the station continues to broadcast, its management has gone into hiding after refusing to accept the RCD's demands.

JUNE 2, 2003

Dieudonné Muzaliwa Bulambo, Congolese National Radio-Television
ATTACKED

Soldiers of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), a rebel movement in control of a large swath of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), detained and assaulted Dieudonné Muzaliwa Bulambo, a journalist for Congolese National Radio-Television (RTNC), in Kindu, Maniema Province. The eastern outlets of RTNC, a national broadcaster, are controlled by the RCD.

Congolese sources said the attack came after Bulambo conducted an on-air interview with Gen. Moutanga Diallo, head of the U.N. Mission in the DRC. During the broadcast, Bulambo raised the issue of the presence of Rwandan troops in Maniema. Rwanda's support of the RCD has been a contentious issue in the ongoing efforts to negotiate peace in the country between the DRC government and rebel factions.

Bulambo was later admitted to a Kindu hospital for treatment. The Kinshasa-based press freedom group Journaliste En Danger reported that RTNC officials subsequently fired Bulambo.

JUNE 7, 2003

Romain Kambala Bilolo, Kasai Horizon Radiotélévision
HARASSED

Bilolo, director of the private station Kasai Horizon Radiotélévision in the southern town of Tshikapa, was arrested and detained by the national intelligence agency (known as ANR) for more than nine hours. The detention came after a June 2 report on the station about a property-rights conflict at the Lungudi diamond mine, according to Bilolo.

The officers took Bilolo to ANR's local detention center for questioning and accused him of inciting the population to violence. He was finally released but ordered to return to the offices on June 9 with the station's programming director and editor-in-chief. Bilolo said he was also detained on that day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. He told CPJ that authorities questioned him about his sources and asked what right he had to broadcast such information.

JUNE 21, 2003

Pierre Kenemo Ngongo, Radiotélévision Debout Kasai
HARASSED

Officers from the national intelligence agency (known by its French acronym ANR) arrested Ngongo, a radio and television producer for Radiotélévision Debout Kasai (RTDK), in Mbuji-Mayi, a city in the central part of the country, where the station is based. According to Ngongo, the arrest stemmed from the station's June 20 broadcast of a press release from a local rebel leader announcing his plans to return to the area after his release from government custody in the capital, Kinshasa.

After the ANR agents arrested Ngongo, they took him to their headquarters, where he was questioned before being released 13 hours later, Ngongo told CPJ. The questioning focused on why Ngongo had aired statements from a member of the Congolese Rally for Democracy/Goma (RCD/Goma) without permission from the ANR, Ngongo said. But according to Ngongo, the press release contained no mention of the RCD.

The RCD is a powerful rebel group that continues to exert de-facto control over much of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, even after the official end of the country's five-year civil war in December 2002.

JUNE 26, 2003
Posted: December 19, 2003

Acquitté Kisembo, Agence France-Presse
MISSING

Kisembo, a 28 year-old medical student who was recruited by Agence France-Presse (AFP) to work as a fixer in the northeastern Ituri region, a notoriously dangerous and unstable area, was reported missing in Bunia, Ituri's main town. The last person to report seeing Kisembo alive was Anthony Morland, an AFP journalist who was working with him.

Local journalists believe that Kisembo was abducted by militiamen loyal to the rebel Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), which controlled Bunia until it was dislodged by a French-led international peacekeeping force earlier in June. Reports suggest that there was UPC resentment at locals perceived to be collaborating with the foreign presence in Bunia. However, the reasons behind Kisembo's disappearance remain unclear.

According to Morland, Kisembo was first hired as a general fixer, but later was given some reporting duties. On the day he disappeared, Kisembo had been assigned to interview displaced people returning to Bunia.

At the time Kisembo was reported missing, Ituri was emerging from several years of bloodletting, violence, and ethnic conflict, spurred by the region's richness in natural resources. According to journalists who have visited Ituri, disappearances, arbitrary killings, and other severe human rights abuses were all common in Ituri at the time.

Morland told CPJ that he had investigated Kisembo's disappearance and was unable to locate any independent witnesses. UPC leader Thomas Lubanga told AFP that Kisembo was killed by militia from a rival ethnic militia, but was unable to substantiate the allegation, according to Morland.

On the evening before his disappearance, Kisembo was threatened by men outside houses occupied by the UPC, Morland said. At the time, he was with a group of international journalists watching the departure from Bunia of the last UPC gunmen, in line with an ultimatum issued by the peacekeeping force.

Kinshasa-based press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) told CPJ that Kisembo was believed to have been assassinated by his kidnappers.

JULY 11, 2003

Donatien Nyembo Kimuni, La Tribune
LEGAL ACTION

Kimuni, Lubumbashi correspondent for the Kinshasa-based private weekly La Tribune, received a five-year prison sentence on a charge of defamation. The charge stemmed from a June 5 La Tribune article by Kimuni claiming that miners at Congo Mineral, a private mining company, are poorly paid and exploited. According to journalists at the weekly, Kimuni had based his article on a report from a public mining firm and the testimony of local miners.

Congo Mineral sent La Tribune a response to Kimuni's article, which the paper published in a subsequent edition. However, the company also filed a defamation charge against the journalist.

On July 11, a court in Likasi, a town located 74 miles (120 kilometers) from Lubumbashi in the southern province of Katanga, convicted Kimuni in absentia, sentenced him to five years in prison, and ordered his immediate arrest. Kimuni told the Congolese press freedom group Journaliste En Danger that he and his lawyers, who live in Lubumbashi, were unable to attend the hearing because the road to Likasi was blocked after soldiers had clashed with students early in the day on the University of Lubumbashi campus. Kimuni is currently in hiding.

JULY 13, 2003

Roger-Salomon Lulemba bin Kiabululu, L'Eveil
HARASSED

Police arrested Lulemba bin Kiabululu in the southern town of Tshikapa, where he works as a correspondent for the Kinshasa-based private weekly newspaper L'Eveil. The journalist was detained for 24 hours before being released without charge.

According to his colleagues at L'Eveil, Lulemba bin Kiabululu's arrest stemmed from an article he had written for the paper about the illegal diamond trade in Tshikapa, a diamond-mining area. In the article, the journalist accused the police in Tshikapa of failing to crack down on traders who are known to purchase diamonds illegally.

During Lulemba bin Kiabululu's detention, police threatened him with death if he continued writing about the diamond trade, the journalist's colleagues said.

Gustave Mpinganyay, Radio Kilimandjaro
HARASSED

Police arrested Mpinganyay, of Radio Kilimandjaro, at the station's offices in the southern town of Tshikapa, where the journalist is based. Mpinganyay told CPJ that he was detained for several hours at the police station in Tshikapa before being released without charge.

During his detention, officers questioned Mpinganyay about an editorial the journalist had aired on Radio Kilimandjaro calling on local journalists to speak out against the abuse of power by authorities in Tshikapa, Mpinganyay said.

JULY 15, 2003

Richard Malango, Tropicana TV
IMPRISONED, HARASSED

Military officers arrested Malango, a cameraman for the private, Kinshasa-based TV channel Tropicana TV, while he was filming a ceremony held by the opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) in Kinshasa, according to the journalist. They also confiscated his camera and videotapes, which contained footage of the ceremony.

According to Malango, the officers arrested him, along with several UDPS activists, even though he showed them his press card and told them he was a journalist. The officers told him he was not allowed to film the UDPS ceremony, the journalist said.

Following Malango's arrest, he was detained in a jail cell for two days before being released without charge. Malango said he was freed after his editor at Tropicana TV contacted military authorities on his behalf. Malango's equipment and cassettes were returned to him, but all footage featuring UDPS activists had been erased, Malango told CPJ.

AUGUST 27, 2003

Désiré-Israél Kazadi, Le Phare
ATTACKED, THREATENED

Police officers in the capital, Kinshasa, assaulted Kazadi, a reporter for the daily newspaper Le Phare (The Lighthouse), during a confrontation with supporters of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) who were trying to procure and bury the body of a party activist who died in police custody on August 18.

When the morgue failed to release the body, the crowd became agitated, according to Kazadi. Officers began to disperse the group violently. Fearing for his life, the journalist hid in a nearby shed. However, three officers found him and ordered him to come out. Though Kazadi identified himself as a journalist and showed the officers his press card, they assaulted him, beating him with nightsticks and injuring his back and shoulders, said the reporter. According to Kazadi, after the beating was over, one of his assailants stopped him as he walked away and told him that someday he would pay the price for his choice of profession.

AUGUST 29, 2003

Guy Kasongo Kilembwe, Pot-Pourri
IMPRISONED

Tshivis Tshivuadi, Journaliste en Danger
THREATENED

National Police officers arrested Kilembwe, editor-in-chief of the Kinshasa-based satirical newspaper Pot-Pourri. Local sources told CPJ they believe that Kilembwe was arrested on the orders of Parliament member Pius Mwabilu, who is also the general manager of L'Avenir Group Radio-Television and publisher of the pro-government daily L'Avenir (The Future).

After arresting Kilembwe, officers took him to a police station, where Mwabilu confronted him. According to Kilembwe, Mwabilu said, "You humiliated me in your newspaper, and now I am going to make you suffer." On August 22, Pot-Pourri published a front-page article alleging that Mwabilu had used funds earmarked for collective use by parliamentarians to launch his media company, L'Avenir Group.

On August 31, Kilembwe was transferred to Kinshasa's Penitentiary and Re-education Center. He was released on September 4 after paying US$100 and promising to appear before the public prosecutor twice a week. At the time of his release, there were no formal charges against him, according to the Kinshasa-based press freedom group Journaliste En Danger (JED) and the journalist himself.

On the evening of August 31, three days after JED's initial press release about Kilembwe, Mwabilu called JED Secretary-General Tshivis Tshivuadi and told him that JED had humiliated him, and that he would "do everything possible to make sure you are silenced," Tshivuadi told CPJ. The following day, L'Avenir published an editorial accusing JED of working for opposition parties, according to JED. Tshivuadi told CPJ that when JED sent the newspaper a formal response, L'Avenir refused to publish it.

Kilembwe was released on September 4 without charge, according to the journalist.

OCTOBER 29, 2003

Simplice Kalunga wa Kalunga, Channel Media Broadcasting
HARASSED

Police arrested Kalunga, a journalist who hosts a political-affairs program on the private television network Channel Media Broadcasting, at the network's headquarters in the Gombe area of the capital, Kinshasa. The police also searched the network's offices and confiscated a videotape containing the October 23 broadcast of the journalist's program, "Nouvelle Donne" (New Deal).

The officers questioned the journalist for several hours about the program, in which Kalunga's guest speaker criticized the country's justice system and accused Justice Minister Kisimba Ngoy of interfering in the judiciary. According to the local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger, the officers accused Kalunga of insulting the justice minister during his program. The journalist was released the same day.

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