Fewer journalists were arrested, threatened or physically attacked in 2003 in Kinshasa and the cities of the south (Lubumbashi, Matadi and Mbuji-Mayi). For the first time in many years, no journalist was in prison for doing his job at the end of 2003.
However, this progress was overshadowed by repeated press freedom violations in the north and east of the country. An Agence France-Presse (AFP) stringer was reported missing in June in Bunia, in the northeastern Ituri region. Matching accounts suggested that he was executed. Reporters were roughed up or detained in the eastern towns of Goma and Bukavu. The different movements that control these areas were exceptionally sensitive to the least criticism from the local media.
Entire segments of the population had no access to news because of the violence prevailing in the remote regions where they live. In Ituri, for example, all the local journalists had to flee the inter-ethnic clashes in May and took up residence further south. The situation returned to normal a few months later with the arrival of French and then multinational armed forces. The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) set up Radio Okapi to offset the lack of news and information in some towns. The station carried news bulletins and personal announcements that helped families get news of loved-ones who were often hundreds of kilometres away.
A journalist missing
Acquitté Kisembo, a stringer for Agence France-Presse (AFP) in the northeastern town of Bunia, was kidnapped by a group of militiamen while interviewing civilians on 26 June 2003. The daily Le Potential reported on 8 July that he and other journalists working for the foreign press were attending the withdrawal of Thomas Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) from their headquarters and their replacement by a UN multinational force. UPC militiamen reportedly threatened Kisembo and called him a "collaborator" and "traitor" for working for AFP and other foreign media. There has been no sign of Kisembo since then. Some sources said he appeared to have been kidnapped and murdered by Lubanga’s men. But Lubanga denied this, and produced an "eye witness" who claimed that Kisembo was kidnapped and killed by militiamen of the Lendu ethnic group.
A journalist imprisoned
Guy Kasombo Kilembwe, the editor of the satirical newspaper Pot-Pourri, was arrested on 29 August because of an article accusing parliamentarian Pius Mwabilu of embezzling money in order to launch a TV channel. Mwabilu heads the broadcasting group Radio-Télévision Groupe L’Avenir (RTGA) and edits the daily newspaper L’Avenir. After being held in police custody for 48 hours, Kilembwe was transferred to the Kinshasa penitentiary on 31 August. He was freed on 4 September without being charged.
Meanwhile, two journalists were released in 2003.
Kadima Mukombe, a reporter and presenter with Radio Kilimandjaro, escaped from Tshikapa prison in Kasaï Occidental province in March and fled to Europe. He had been imprisoned in very harsh conditions since 31 December 2002. At the time of his arrest, he was given 50 lashes and his head was shaved with a used razor. He was than put in a cell with army deserters and non-political detainees who constantly threatened him. He was charged with "insulting the army" because in his programme on the day prior to his arrest he had accused local military officers of spending too much time dealing in diamonds instead of supervising their troops, who were taking advantage of the neglect to rob the population.
Raymond Kabala, the publisher of the newspaper Alerte Plus, was released on 6 March after spending seven and a half months in the Kinshasa penitentiary. He was arrested on 19 July 2002 on a charge of "publishing false news" in an 11 July report that said security and public order minister Mwenze Kongolo had apparently been poisoned. This turned out to be wrong, and the newspaper had published a correction the next day.
19 journalists detained
Justin Dunia, a reporter and photographer with the daily Au Taux du Jour, was detained on 4 February 2003 by members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) while taking pictures to illustrate a report about transport difficulties in the capital. He was interrogated and put in a cell, and was not released until two days later.
Jules Tambwe Itagali of the newspaper Uhuru was detained and beaten in Kinshasa on 11 February by members of Police Special Services (SSP) because he photographed police officers detaining the general secretary of the national electricity company. The police confiscated his mobile phone, his camera and his tape-recorder.
Joseph Mbuyi wa Mbuyi, a reporter with the weekly Les Coulisses, was detained in February in the northeastern town of Bunia by leaders of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), who accused his newspaper of criticising the UPC and of describing it as a tribal militia of the Hema ethnic group. Expelled from Bunia, Mbuyi returned to the newspaper’s headquarters in the nearby town of Beni.
Michel Mukebayi Nkoso, the publisher of the Kinshasa-based weekly Kin News, was detained on 25 February and taken to a Police Special Services (SSP) centre in Kin-Mazière where he was ordered to reveal the sources of a report that Pastor Sony Kafuta received a million dollars from President Joseph Kabila after fathering a child by Kabila’s twin sister. Kasongo Mukishi, the weekly’s managing editor, who co-wrote the article, went into hiding immediately after Nkoso’s arrest. Nkoso was released three hours later.
Jean-Jules Lema Landu, the editor of Amani, a magazine published by the League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region (LDGL), was detained by members of the Congolese Rally for Democracy - Liberation Movement (RCD-ML) in the northeastern town of Beni on 22 March while investigating tension between the UPC and the Ugandan army. Although Congolese, Landu was suspected of espionage because his base is in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. He was released the next day.
Radio Maria Malkia Wa Amani was the only station in the eastern city of Bukavu to continue giving news bulletins during clashes between Mai Mai militiamen and members of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) on 6 April, when station manager Ben Kabamba went around the city’s neighbourhoods interviewing residents. The next day he was detained for three hours in a cell by agents of the RCD-Goma’s Security and Intelligence Directorate (DSR), who accused him of "helping to reveal military secrets and demoralise troops in wartime."
Richard Malango, a cameraman with the commercial television channel Tropicana TV, was detained on 23 April in Kinshasa by members of Police Special Services (SSP) while covering a demonstration by the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), an opposition party. He was taken to an SSP centre in Kin-Mazière where he was forced to erase his footage of the demonstration.
Joseph Nkinzo, the manager of the community radio station Sauti ya Rehema in the eastern town of Bukavu, was detained on 28 May by two RCD-Goma soldiers on the order of their Security and Intelligence Directorate (DSR). He was locked away and was not interrogated until the evening of the next day, when he was whipped for about an hour by the RCD-Goma’s deputy security chief for ceasing to retransmit the state-owned radio and TV broadcaster RTNC (controlled locally by the RCD) and for not limiting his station to religious programmes. He was finally released after being held for 36 hours.
Romain Kambala Gilolo, the director of the privately-owned radio and TV station, Kasaï Horizon Radio-Télévision (KHRT), based in Tshikapa (in the central province of Kasaï Occidental), was detained by members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) on the morning of 7 June. After being interrogated and locked up in an ANR centre, he was released in the evening with orders to tell his director of programming and editor to come to the ANR office the next day. He was prosecuted for "spreading inaccurate news" and "inciting a revolt"because KHRT had reported the existence of a dispute about the ownership of the Lungudi diamond mine.
Pierre Kanemo Ngongani, the director of Radio-Télévision Debout Kasaï (RTDK) in Mbuji-Mayi (in Kasaï Oriental province), was detained on 21 June by ANR members because the day before his station had reported the imminent return of Tshivuadi Mansanga, the RCD-Goma’s leader in Mbuji-Mayi. The ANR told him not to talk about Mansanga any more.
Delly Bonsange and Kala Kalucha, contributors to the newspapers Alerte Plus and Standard Info, were detained by police in the Kalamu section of central Kinshasa on 8 July. Bonsange was arrested by mistake, as the police were in fact looking for his sister, Lauriane Bonsange, an editor with the weekly Alarme. Kalucha was arrested for objecting to Bonsange’s arrest. Both were taken to the provincial police headquarters where they were interrogated and released a few hours later.
Augustin Lubukayi, the director of Radio Télévision Lumière (RTL), a religious broadcaster based in Kasaï Occidental province, was detained by the ANR on 3 October because one of his presenters accused a Protestant pastor of soliciting money in return for blessings. The comment had displeased an ANR member who belonged to the pastor’s flock. Lubukayi was released the next day after being forced to sign a statement retracting the criticism of the pastor.
Valère Mulopo Kisweko, the secretary-general of the Congo Press Union (UPC) and Maurice Bokoko, its second vice-president, were detained for five hours on 6 October in Kinshasa for allegedly obstructing police efforts to find out the address of the newspaper L’Interprète and that of its editor. Accused of publishing a false report about the murder of a director of taxes in September, L’Interprète did not have an address of its own and gave the UPC’s address in the newspaper.
Symplice Kalunga wa Kalunga, the presenter of the programme "Nouvelle Donne" on the commercial TV station Channel Media Broadcasting (CMB), was detained by police on 29 October and taken to the Kinshasa/Gombe prosecutor’s office. He was interrogated there about his interview, the week before, with a government opponent who had said justice minister Kisimba Ngoy meddled in court decisions. He was freed a few hours later, but police confiscated the recording of the show with the offending interview.
Cyrille Kileba Pok-a-Mes, the editor of the biweekly The Post, was detained on 19 December and questioned for three hours by a judge about a report in the 11 November issue in which he said the murder of a senior treasury official by former military prosecutor Charles Alamba Mungako was a crime of passion. The judge ordered The Post to reveal its sources.
Eight journalists physically attacked
Anton Kolher, station manager of the UN mission’s Radio Okapi in the eastern town of Kindu, was manhandled on 4 February 2003 by soldiers under the command of Col. Bernard Byamungu, who uttered death threats against Kolher.
Baudouin Kamanda, a stringer for Radio France Internationale (RFI), was attacked by activists of the opposition UDPS at a press conference held by the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) on 4 May in a Kinshasa hotel. He sustained slight injuries to the face before being rescued by hotel security staff and police. The UDPS activists, who were there to support the RCD-Goma, singled out Kamanda for announcing on the air that former RCD leader Arthur Zahidi Ngoma had been named vice-president in the transition government. The UDPS and other opposition groups considered the appointment "unilateral and irregular" and thought Etienne Tshisekedi should have been chosen.
Michel Mukebayi Nkoso, the publisher of the privately-owned newspaper Congo News, and Sage-Fidèle Gayala Ngangu, its editor, were kidnapped and beaten on 5 June by soldiers of the Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) acting at the behest of Gen. Denis Kalume Numbi’s son. The soldiers accused them of "showing disrespect to a general’s son."
Pierre-Sosthène Kambidi, a journalist with the radio and TV station Kilimandjaro and a correspondent for Journalists In Danger (JED), was attacked by soldiers in Kanzala stadium in Tshikapa (in the central province of Kasaï Occidental) on 29 June when he went to help his cameraman, Patrick Tshibwabwa, who was being prevented by the soldiers from filming a football match. One of the soldiers, identified as Sub-Lt. Masiya , reportedly accused Kambidi of supporting the opposition UDPS. Kambidi was injured in an eye and had to be hospitalised. His mobile phone and money were also stolen. Tshibwabwa was detained by the soldiers for three hours.
Tsheke Bukasa of the daily Le Phare, was jostled by police and ejected from Kinshasa general hospital on 23 August when he went there seeking information about the death of government opponent José Mukenge. Men suspected for belonging to a government security agency looked for him in early September, visiting his family and his employer several times to ask where he was.
Désiré-Israel Kazadi of the daily Le Phare was beaten with batons by police on 27 August while covering a demonstration by activists demanding the body of opposition leader José Mukenge. One of the policemen threatened Kazadi and told him that one day he would "pay the price for choosing to be a journalist."
Security and Intelligence Directorate (DSR) agents went to the studios of radio Sauti ya Rehema in the eastern town of Bukavu on 17 April and threatened its journalists, accusing them of giving too much airtime to the local government’s civil society critics. They threatened to arrest the journalists and close the station if its editorial line did not change. In June, the RCD ordered the station to stop broadcasting its own news reports and instead, for three hours each day, retransmit the programmes of the state-owned radio and TV broadcaster RTNC (controlled locally by the RCD).
Jonathan Mutayega, a BBC radio stringer in the eastern town of Uvira (near the border with Burundi), was insulted on 25 April by Commander Mutebutsi of the RCD, who accused him of siding with the Mai-Mai. Often followed and threatened by telephone, Mutayega was forced to keep changing residence. The authorities finally prevented him from re-entering the country when he was returning from a visit to Rwanda on 27 May. The security chief said this was because he did not have a press accreditation card, although such cards are reserved for foreign journalists. Mutayega thereafter lived in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.
Tshivis Tshivuadi, the secretary-general of Journalists In Danger (JED), received a death threat on 31 August from parliamentarian Pius Mwabilu, who accused the JED of being biased against the pro-government newspapers.
Polydor Muboyayi, the publisher of the daily Le Phare, received death threats from members of the National Union of Congolese Federalists (UNAFEC) in October because of an article about ethnic cleansing in Katanga province in 1992 which left several thousand dead. The article said UNAFEC’s president, Kyungu wa Kumuanza, who was Katanga’s governor at the time, was partly responsible.
Matthieu Kalume, the producer of a programme for young people carried by the state-owned broadcaster Radio-Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC), was attacked by two soldiers in the eastern town of Goma on 4 November. After showing his press card, he was beaten and relieved of his money.
Harassment and obstruction
About 5,000 copies of the London-based Grands Lacs Magazine intended for sale in the Democratic Republic of Congo were seized by customs in Kinshasa in February 2003. The Police Special Services (SSP) temporarily banned sale of the magazine in order to conduct an investigation. The magazine’s January issue contained a photo of President Kabila’s wife, Olive Lembe Disita, who until then had never appeared in any publication or on any TV station.
Lolo Luasu of the newspaper Révélateur, Rombaut Kasongo of Mosaïque, Elali Ikoko of the daily La Tempête des Tropiques and Vicky Kazumba of the TV station Canal Kin were barred from travelling to Gbadolite, near the border with the Central African Republic, on 18 February to cover the trial of 27 officers from the northern-based Congo Liberation Movement (MLC) who were accused of cannibalism and war crimes.
A Swahili-language programme produced by an international NGO, Search for Common Ground, and carried by the state-owned broadcaster Radio-Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC), was censored on 18 February by Médard Majaribu Mufumbe, the administrator of the eastern territory of Uvira. The programme included interviews with residents of the nearby Bukavu region voicing concern at seeing former Rwandan soldiers in civilian dress return to the region. Leonard Safari Ntanama, the head of the local branch of the RTNC, Michel Kizibisha, the head of programming, Bugumba Tanganika, the editor, and Mukulutake Byemba, the head of finances, were questioned by local intelligence officers and accused of broadcasting a message likely to stir up the population of Uvira. Déo Namujimbo and Dieudonné Utalamba, the two persons responsible for programmes at the NGO, were questioned for two hours on 19 February about the NGO’s operations. RTNC issued a denial about the presence of Rwandans in the region. Thereafter, the station had to obtain the approval of the Security and Intelligence Directorate (DSR) and Uvira’s administrator before broadcasting a programme produced by Search for Common Ground.
The authorities of Kasaï Oriental province on 1 March ordered the closure of Radio-Télévision Amazone (RTA), a radio station based in Mbuji-Mayi, for broadcasting "inaccurate news" and "discourteous remarks" in a programme about an incident on 25 February in a diamond mine in Bakwanga. According to the government, seven clandestine miners suffocated in what was an accident. But RTA interviewed local sources who said the MIBA (the company that controls the mine) had deliberated suffocated a total of 20 clandestine miners.
Without giving any explanation, the Security and Intelligence Directorate (DSR) confiscated a consignment of copies of issue No. 123 of the newspaper Les Coulisses at Simi Simi airport in the northeastern city of Kisangani on 15 April. Four days later, the DSR deputy director for general intelligence confiscated the press card of Les Coulisses journalist Norbert Kisanga Yenge, explaining that it would be returned when the newspaper’s editors publicly acknowledged on Voice of America radio that the copies of Les Coulisses were abandoned at the airport, not confiscated. On 4 May, DSR agents confiscated Yenge’s notebook and an audio cassette as he was about to board a plane for Beni.
During a procession on 17 May marking the sixth anniversary of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s "liberation," a member of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) confiscated the video camera and press card of Robert Kadima Baruani, a cameraman with the TV station Télé Kin Malebo (TKM). Five plain-clothes men also tried to kidnap him, threatening to kill him and accusing him of filming the president "from too close." His equipment was returned at the end of the ceremony.
Radio-Télévision Message de Vie (RTMV), a Kinshasa-based radio station run by the Victory Army Church of protestant pastor Fernando Kutino, stopped broadcasting on 10 June after being ransacked by unidentified assailants. Acting on the pretext of restoring order, the police occupied the station’s transmitter, located 10 km from the studios. Police were also permanently posted outside the studios and the church, while Rev. Kutino went into hiding. The church was finally able to resume broadcasting on 14 December.
Soldiers of the Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) went to the studios of the Catholic Church-run Radio Fraternité Buena Muntu (RFBM) in Mbuji-Mayi on 3 July and asked neighbours for the addresses of its journalists and the parish priest. As a result, the station’s management asked the police to protect the station and its staff.
The Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) issued a decree on 7 July authorising the reopening of privately-owned Radio Maendeleo in the eastern town of Bukavu. The RCD had closed the station on 9 December 2002 for "manipulating opinion" after it broadcast a survey in which church, business and civil society representatives criticised the introduction of new vehicle licence plates as too expensive. Several of the station’s journalists were detained and questioned at the time by RCD intelligence agents. Announcing the reopening, the RCD said the staff had recognised their mistakes. The station resumed broadcasting with a new licence on 8 July.
Donatien Nyembo Kimuni, the weekly La Tribune’s correspondent in Lubumbashi (in the southeastern province of Katanga), was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison by a court in Likasi (120 km from Lubumbashi) on 11 July for allegedly libelling a mining company, Congo Mineral, in an article that said it mistreated its workers. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Kimuni, who went into hiding. The complaint was withdrawn after an out-of-court settlement in August.
Soldiers posted outside a conference centre used for official meetings denied entry to two TV cameramen, Kadima Baruani of Radio-Télévision Kin-Malebo (RTKM) and Mbo Shilo of Antenne A, on 22 and 23 July. They were able to enter the meeting room only after the president’s spokesman intervened.
Journalists from privately-owned news media were barred from covering the swearing-in of new members of the transitional government on 24 July in Kinshasa on the pretext that the room was too small. Only the state-owned broadcaster RTNC was allowed in.
The state-owned RTNC’s provincial station in Kisangani decided at the start of August to drop two propaganda programmes of the former rebels of the RCD on the grounds that the country now had a government of national unity. Wanting to keep a grip on news reporting in the territories under its control, the RCD authorities reacted by threatening the station’s senior staff. RTNC provincial director Alimasi Mayanga was summoned by the deputy governor on 5 August and threatened with dismissal. The next day, programming chief Etienne Bwande Bwanapua was suspended for several days for allegedly being responsible for the decision to drop the two RCD programmes. The RCD’s coordinator for public media then ordered Mayanga’s suspension on 18 August for "flagrant insubordination" but he refused to comply and continued working.
The local authorities in Kiwanja (in Nord-Kivu province) banned the community radio station Radio Communautaire Ushirika (RACOU) on 16 September on the grounds that it did not have a permit from the RCD-Goma governor. The station manager said the authorities had ignored his requests for a permit, suggesting instead that he merge his station with a proposed community station that had RCD-Goma backing. He had refused, he said.
Police on 20 September prevented Ciang Kabiona, a cameraman with the commercial TV station Radio-Télévision Groupe L’Avenir (RTGA), from filming the arrest of a government minister’s bodyguard. The police claimed that only the military press were allowed to cover that kind of incident.