Reporters Without Borders today said it was “worried and exasperated” about the continuing threats against the members of Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organisation in Democratic Republic of Congo, who have to endure a constant climate of fear and danger.
“Aside from making life impossible for a small group of courageous journalists, these repeated threats shows how dangerous it is to defend press freedom in Democratic Republic of Congo today,” the organisation said. “We urge the government not to make an already difficult situation worse after press and information minister Toussaint Tshilombo’s public threats against JED on 31 July.”
JED’s leaders have been exposed to frequent anonymous death threats and insults for the past two years. They have also received at least two serious warnings that have forced them to leave the country temporarily.
After criticising the way the authorities handled the investigation into the June murder of Serge Maheshe, the news editor of the UN-backed Radio Okapi’s office in Bukavu, JED secretary-general Tshivis Tshivuadi received a telephone warning at the end of June that he might see “a rocket fall on your house.”
In early July, Tshivuadi and JED executive-director Donat M’Baya Tshimanga were warned by a reliable source that JED’s activities in the Maheshe case were upsetting certain unidentified “chiefs” within the government. The source advised them to “adopt a low profile” and “leave the country temporarily.”
In an interview for the privately-owned TV station Antenne A on 31 July, the press and information minister called JED “an anti-patriotic organisation” and urged it to “take great care.” Stressing that what he was saying was his considered position, Tshilombo went on : “When we [the government] see that certain organisations are going too far, we are can withdraw their legal status, especially anti-patriotic organisations that go out their way to make our country look ridiculous at home and abroad.” The minister added : “This practice must end, and I am firm about that. This must end.”
Following these comments, Tshimanga and Tshivuadi left Kinshasa for several weeks.
On 20 August, JED received an anonymous fax ordering Tshivuadi and Tshimanga “for the first and last time” to stop “poking your finger” into the case of La Référence Plus journalist Franck Ngyke and his wife Hélène Mpaka, who were murdered in Kinshasa in November 2005. “Your time will come and we will know what to do with your,” the faxed message said, which came from +243 234-1165.
Reporters Without Borders and JED received an email on 2 September from a person calling himself a “Military General,” who claimed responsibility for the threats and accused JED of possessing “negative” documents about the government that it had received from South Africa. This was not true.
JED’s leaders had several bad experiences in 2005 and 2006. On 4 April 2005, JED found an email message in its inbox addressed to Tshivuadi that was signed by “Commandant Mbonge Munene” (Commander Violent Wind). It came from the address email@example.com, the first part of which means “The Fatherland Will Overcome.”
It accused him and Tshimanga of “betraying the nation” with “mendacious campaigns” and of preparing “unrest in the country” for which they would have to “pay with your blood.” It said “the hour of repentance is nigh” and it promised that “your throats will be cut” as well those of “your children and grandchildren” because “traitors will deserve nothing but death and the rotting of their bodies.” It concluded : “You are already dead. You have been warned.”
On 10 December 2005, the day after the release of their annual report, JED’s four leading members received anonymous SMS messages on their mobile phones warning them that they would “disappear one by one” if they did not announce the end of JED’s activities. The message gave them a deadline of 10 days, after which action would be taken “even against your families.” They could identify the phone number from which the message was sent but no serious investigation was carried out by the authorities.
Tshimanga and Tshivuadi received more threats in anonymous phone calls and SMS messages in February 2006, a few days after the release of their report on the Ngyke murder. In a mix of French and Lingala, they were described as “lifelong enemies” who would “pay dearly” for their work.
After finding a safe place for their families, Tshimanga and Tshivuadi had to flee abroad for several weeks in mid-February 2006. They accompanied a Reporters Without Borders delegation to a meeting with President Joseph Kabila on 9 March 2006, in the course of which Kabila was asked to take measures to ensure that they could work in safety. Kabila replied that JED would have “the president’s protection.”
JED has reported the threats twice to the prosecutor-general’s office, but no action has ever been taken.