After two years as president, Joseph Kabila had still not reined in press freedom violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Journalists were detained, attacked or threatened each week just for doing their job. Privately-owned radio and TV stations, which have enjoyed a boom, were in the sights of the authorities in Kinshasa. The government saw them as worrying competition for the state-owned radio and TV broadcaster RTNC, its preferred medium for serving up official propaganda.
The long, stormy negotiations between the government and its opponents in Sun City, in South Africa, called the "inter-Congolese dialogue," absorbed the attention of the local press for several months and some journalists had problems after reporting aspects that were particularly unwelcome for the Kinshasa government.
At Kinshasa’s international airport, the police constantly monitored the trips abroad of independent or pro-opposition journalists and it was always difficult to leave the country with copies of publications criticising the government.
On the occasion of national press day on 22 July 2002, communication minister Kikaya Bin Karubi called on journalists to be "beyond reproach" in their respect for professional ethics and voiced the desire to set up a body to regulate and defend the profession. In the course of the year, several press and journalists’ associations deplored the insults, defamation, unfounded rumour and inaccurate reporting that too often appeared in the Congolese press.
One of the few encouraging initiatives came from justice minister Ngele Masudi. In August, he wrote to all the public prosecutors to remind them that pre-trial detention should be "an exceptional measure" and that journalists should not be systematically arrested or placed in pre-trial detention just because they were journalists. He also asked the appeal courts and the military court to punish any judicial abuses.
The situation for press freedom got much worse in the areas controlled by the rebels. The three main movements fighting the government - the Goma-based Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), the Congo Liberation Movement and an RCD splinter group called the Congolese Rally for Democracy -Liberation Movement - became more hostile toward the few independent news media present in the territories under their control.
Nine journalists imprisoned
At least two journalists were still in prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of 2002.
Raymond Kabala, managing editor of the daily Alerte Plus, was arrested by plain-clothes police on 19 July 2002 for "publishing inaccurate information." He was jailed in the Kinshasa penitentiary. Eight days earlier, his newspaper reported that 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. Police investigators arrested the newspaper’s editor, Delly Bonsange, three days after Kabala. On 6 September, the Kinshasa N’Djili local court found them guilty of libel and "falsification," sentencing Kabala to 12 months in prison and Bonsange to six months. They were also ordered to pay the minister damages. A diabetic, Bonsange fell ill in prison because he was unable to followed his prescribed diet and was hospitalised under police guard on 26 September. The Kinshasa N’Djili high level court confirmed their conviction on appeal on 21 November but reduced Kabala’s sentence to seven months and cancelled Bonsange’s sentence altogether. Bonsange was released on 3 December, but his managing editor was due to remain behind bars until February 2003.
Kadima Mukombe, journalist and presenter on Radio Kilimandjaro, was arrested by military personnel in the southwestern town of Tshikapa on 31 December on an accusation of "insulting the army." He was taken to the local headquarters of the DEMIAP (Military Detection of Activities against the Homeland) where he was allegedly given 50 lashes during interrogation. During his broadcast the previous day, Mukombe accused local military officers of becoming diamond dealers and accused their troops of taking advantage of the neglect to rob the population. Workers in the local diamond mines interviewed by Mukombe had complained of harassment by military personnel. Mukombe had been briefly detained by members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) on 23 December for decrying the poverty of Tshikapa’s population while thousands of carats of diamonds were extracted every day from the town’s mines. He was released the same day after signing an undertaking not to "stir up the population against the authorities."
Edouard Nawej, Carlos Ngombe and Nalva Nawej, journalists with the local privately-owned radio and television station Mutoshi, were arrested by ANR agents on 22 January in the southern city of Kolwezi (Katanga province) because a week earlier a human rights activist had said on the air that, aside from the chief of the station, ANR agents were not authorized to act as police investigators. They were released six days later.
José Feruzi Samwegele, a journalist with the state-run broadcaster RTNC, was arrested by two soldiers on 3 April and taken to the offices of the DEMIAP because he allegedly intended to broadcast a communique issued by the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) at the inter-Congolese dialogue in Sun City, South Africa. He was released seven days later without receiving any official explanation.
Dieudonné Karl Nawezi, a TV sports reporter with RTNC in Katanga, was arrested by ANR agents on 7 May and accused of propaganda on behalf of opposition presidential candidate Katebe Katoto. He had produced a report on a soccer game played in South Africa by the Congolese team Tout-Puissant Mazembe which showed accompanying fans wearing T-shirts with a photograph of Katoto, who used to be the team manager. Nawezi was released on 11 May after being told that his guilt had not been established.
Achille Ekele N’Golyma, publisher of the satirical newspaper Pot-Pourri, and his editor Damien Baita were arrested on 31 July as a result of a libel complaint brought by Joseph Olenghankoy of FONUS, a small political party claiming to be part of the opposition, because of an article accusing him of corruption and embezzlement. Baita was released almost immediately when it was established that he was being confused with the author of an article making similar accusations against the FONUS leader in the newspaper Vision, also named in his complaint. The Vision journalist went into hiding to avoid arrest. On 7 August, Olenghankoy threatened Journalist in Danger (JED), a local press freedom organisation which had called for N’Golyma’s release. N’Golyma was finally set free on 15 August by the prosecutor’s office, which decided not to pursue the case.
11 journalists arrested
Five senior staff members of the daily La Tempête des Tropiques were detained by agents of the Police Special Services (SSP) on 11 July 2002 because of a report headlined "Kinshasa on the brink of catastrophe" about four deaths in skirmishes between police and civilians in a district of the capital. That day’s edition was also seized. The five detainees were Raymond Luaula (publisher), Bamporiki Chamira (head of investigations), Hilaire Mutulwa (head of personnel), Kabongo Mabika (sales representative) and Edo Kalemani (chief printer). They were freed that evening after promising to publish a retraction in the next day’s edition.
Eugène Ngimbi Madebo, editor of the weekly L’Intermédiaire, was arrested by police on 7 August and taken to the prosecutor’s office of the military court . The public prosecutor accused him of libelling the court in an article calling on the court to release two human rights activists held for several months in which he described it as "an instrument for the consolidation of a dictatorship." He was released two days later.
John Kinkendu and Monolphe Boso, a cameraman and reporter working for television news agency AITV-RFO, were detained on 16 August on the pretext that they had no accreditation while they were reporting on the situation of the handicapped in Kinshasa. After viewing what they had recorded, the authorities let them go.
Potoki Eteta Nenga, a journalist with Radio-Télévision Matadi (RTM), was detained and placed in the main prison of the eastern town of Matadi (Bas-Congo province) on 11 November for reporting a case of embezzlement at the provincial tax office in the previous day’s news. He was released two days later.
Alain Kiuka and Djoussine Belebele, journalists with the privately-owned TV channel Antenne A, and Hermione Yamvu Muzinga, a trainee with Tropicana TV, were detained and taken to the headquarters of the SSP on 16 November as they were filming the eviction of the occupants from a home belonging to the daughter of a prime minister of former president Mobutu. They were set free the same day.
Paulette Kimuntu and Kadima Baruani, journalists with the privately-owned Radio-Télévision Kin-Malebo (RTKM), were detained outside the South African embassy in Kinshasa by SSP agents on 2 December as they were about to film a civil society demonstration about the lack of progress in the inter-Congolese dialogue in Sun City. They were released a few hours later.
Two journalists physically attacked
Valery Mankenda and Matou Matumona, a reporter and cameraman with the privately-owned television channel Canal Kin TV, were manhandled on 8 May 2002 by guards of the security company used by the Union des Banques Congolaises (UBC), a bank. They had tried to cover a heated dispute between the bank’s staff and clients who were refusing to leave until they had their money. Their camera was damaged.
Two journalists threatened
Lucien Kahozi, Voice of America (VOA) correspondent in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi (Katanga province), was threatened by local military authorities and went into hiding on 20 November 2002 after arranging for VOA headquarters in the United States to interview Abbot François Muyila Mbweno. The abbot had described acts of violence by units of the Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) against the local population. According to human rights groups, FAC units attacked and set fire to a thousand homes in Ankoro (north of Lubumbashi), leaving many dead. The government had acknowledged the incident but played down the extent of the damage.
Francine Mokoko, a reporter with the newspaper Le Révélateur, was threatened by the head of the immigration service on 23 November after she reported that the eldest son of former planning minister Gen. Denis Kalume Numbi was stopped at Kinshasa international airport with two suitcases full of US dollar banknotes.
Pressure and obstruction
Newspapers viewed as pro-opposition were barred from covering the inter-Congolose dialogue in Sun City in the list of accredited journalists drawn up by the presidential press office in February 2002. The authorities also decided to keep a close watch on the satirical newspapers. Le Grognon and Pot-Pourri complained in early March of various forms of discrimination including great difficulty in obtaining visas and permits to travel abroad.
Agents of the Rapid Intervention Police (PIR) seized copies of certain newspapers on the streets of Kinshasa on 13 March, briefly detaining a number of vendors and readers.
Zacharie Nyemabo Kalenga, a reporter with the newspaper La Tribune, was invited to the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in Kinshasa on 7 June for a "working meeting." He arrived at around 11 a.m. and was finally received at 8 p.m. by a member of the police investigations department who asked him about a report in the newspaper’s 9 May issue. The report said the Lebanese embassy had been asked to reimburse a sum of money swindled by one of its citizens, Bacher Adel Musa. At the end of the interview, he was asked to come back the next day to sign a statement. After arriving at 10 a.m., he was kept until 3 p.m., and was asked to return yet again with a copy of the article.
Ghislain Banza, director of Radio Fraternité Buena Muntu (RFBM), Didier Kabuya, business director of Radio-Télévision Debout Kasaï (RDTK) and M. Katende, director of programmes with Radio Télé Inter Viens et Vois (RTIV), were summoned by the ANR deputy provincial director in Mbuji-Mayi (Kasaï-Oriental province) on 24 July and ordered to stop "quoting by name, referring to, or showing pictures of Etienne Tshisekedi" in their broadcasts, under threat of punishment. Tshisekedi heads the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).
Two agents from the headquarters of the tax department turned up at the offices of the daily Le Potentiel in Kinshasa on 18 November with the intention of closing it down. They had a padlock and a "public notice" announcing that "the company Le Potentiel is closed for non-payment of taxes." After staff insisted that part of the arrears had already been paid, the two agents finally left without going ahead with the closure.
Agents of the Police Special Services (SSP) interrupted the broadcasting of the privately-owned television channel Canal Kin TV at 11 p.m. on 20 November and closed its studios after it carried a programme marking the fourth anniversary of the creation of the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC), one of the rebel groups opposed to the Kabila government. During the programme, MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, whose family owns Canal Kin TV, referred to a recent UN report about the looting of the RDC’s wealth. The station was allowed to resumed broadcasting the next day at 6:30 p.m. but police continued to surround its offices for several hours.
Areas controlled by rebel movements
Seven journalists imprisoned
Wema Kennedy, the head of Radio Muungano, was arrested on 7 March 2002 in Beni (in Nord-Kivu province, near the Ugandan border) by intelligence agents of the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement (RCD-ML) for reporting that the RCD-ML leader was still in Uganda when the inter-Congolese dialogue opened in South Africa. He was released a week later.
Raphaël Paluku Kyana, the head of Radio Rurale de Kanyabayonga (RRKA), was arrested in Goma, near the Rwandan border, on 9 March by government immigration agents as he was travelling to Mbuji-Mayi (in a government zone) for a meeting of the national association of community radio stations. He was detained in a prison in Goma known as Bureau 2 because RRKA broadcasts from a town controlled by the RCD-ML rebels. When released on 14 March, his money and belongings were not returned to him. A human rights activist, Richard Muhindo Bayunda, was briefly detained on 15 March for protesting about the confiscation of Kyana’s equipment.
Nicaise Kibel Bel Oka, publisher of the weekly Les Coulisses, and human rights minister Ntumba Luaba Lubu were captured by the militia of a traditional chief on 29 August while the minister was on a peacemaking mission to the northeastern Ituri area, notionally controlled by the RCD-ML. They were released on 1 September in exchange for nine dissident members of the rebel movement.
Franklin Moliba-Sese, correspondent in the northern city of Gbadolite for Radio Okapi, the station operated by the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), was arrested on 13 September by members of the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC). Radio Okapi said he was detained because of a report about MLC child-soldiers in which he referred to their life alongside adults in military camps as a "living hell." He was set free on 21 September on the orders of the Gbadolite prosecutor.
Three RTNC journalists in the eastern town of Uvira (Sud-Kivu province) - Safari Ntanama, Bugumba Tanganika and Zamukulu Mulungula - were detained by RCD-Goma intelligence agents on 26-27 September and were placed in Uvira prison. It was reported that they had been arrested on the orders of Sud-Kivu deputy governor Tommy Tambwe Rudima, who took offence at their coverage of the RCD-Goma and their description of Uvira as "moribund." They were set free a week later when Mai-Mai militia attacked the town.
Six journalists arrested
Mutere Kifara, editor of the Le Messager du Peuple, was arrested in Uvira on 4 October 2002 because of a report about alleged embezzlement by the local government and certain RCD leaders. The same allegations had previously been carried by the local RTNC station. Kifara was released the next day.
Kizito Mushizi, director of the privately-owned Radio Maendeleo, was detained on 16 October in the eastern town of Bukavu (Sud-Kivu province) by RCD intelligence agents. They were looking for two of the station’s reporters, Omba Kamengele and Chouchou Namegabe Nabintu, because they had reported clashes in the Ruzizi plain between the RCD-Goma and the Mai-Mai and an alleged dispatch of reinforcements by Rwanda and Burundi. In the absence of the two reporters, the agents detained Mushizi. He was released a few hours later but he had to report to the agents again the next morning and undertake not to carry this kind of information again.
Mussa Kitoko, the provincial chief of the DSR (the RCD-Goma’s intelligence agency) went to the offices of Radio Maendeleo in Bukavu on 9 December, accompanied by about 30 soldiers and police, and ordered the station to stop broadcasting. The police detained station director Kizito Mushizi, head of programming Omba Kamengele, a reporter, a technician and the station’s accountant. RCD spokesperson Jean-Pierre Lola Kisanga said the station was closed for violating the terms of its licence. The station’s staff linked the closure to a report a few days earlier that the population was very critical of the introduction of new vehicle licence plates. Everyone was released the same evening except Mushizi and Kamengele, who were set free the next day.
Two journalists threatened
Intruders tried to break into the home of Radio Maria director Ben Kabamba on the night of 28 May 2002 in Bukavu. Kabamba alerted the police who detained three persons. This was the third attempted break-in at Kabamba’s home. He said one of the detainees reportedly told the police that certain people were "unhappy" with Radio Maria.
Le Messager du Peuple editor Charles Nasibu Bilali was forced to flee the eastern town of Uvira on 23 October and take refuge in nearby Bujumbura, in Burundi. In an interview for an international radio station two days earlier, he had confirmed that Rwandan soldiers fought alongside the RCD-Goma in the attack that enabled them to retake control of Uvira.
Pressure and obstruction
The RCD-Goma on 16 July 2002 refused Arnaud Zajtman of the BBC permission to prepare a report in the east of the country. The BBC linked the ban to a report it broadcast on 26 May implicating the RCD in 200 deaths during clashes in Kisangani.