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DRC denies entry to independent Belgian journalist

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Thierry Michel was denied entry into the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday. (AFP/Thierry Charlier)

Abuja, Nigeria, July 10, 2012--A Belgian journalist who released a critical documentary on the murder of a human rights activist was denied entry into the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Sunday. The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces the country's decision to block Thierry Michel entry into the country for what seems to be an attempt to silence critical journalism.

Immigration officials at N'djili International Airport in Kinshasa, the capital, prevented Michel from entering the country and also seized his passport, according to a statement released by the journalist. The authorities then put him on a plane to Brussels, saying he lacked the necessary visa to enter or exit the country, he said.

Michel was visiting the country for scheduled screenings of his documentary, L'Affaire Chebeya, un crime d'etat?, about the unsolved murder of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya. Chebeya, head of leading human rights group Voix des Sans Voix, was found dead in his car in June 2010, shortly after he was summoned for a meeting with the national police chief.

Authorities indefinitely postponed private screenings of the film, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday for the diplomatic community in Kinshasa, according to news reports. It is unclear whether public screenings scheduled for later this week would take place.

Lambert Mende, a government spokesman and the DRC's communications minister, told CPJ today that Michel "had problems with immigration administration" which said he had a fake visa. But Michel provided CPJ with his travel documents, which included a valid Special Resident Visa that authorizes him free entry into the country from February 2008 to February 2013. The journalist also showed CPJ that he had signed authorization by Mende to report and film in the country from February 2012 through February 2013. The journalist's passport also bears evidence of numerous entries to and exits from Congo within the past five years.

"Authorities may be citing paperwork, but it's clear they denied entry to Thierry Michel to limit publicity about his film," CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said from New York. "The denial only serves to draw attention to the hard questions raised by Michel's film, which highlights the government's failures in addressing the mysteries surrounding the murder of Floribert Chebeya."

While in the country, Michel had also planned to witness the July 17 appeal of police officers convicted in the murder of Chebeya. His deportation has drawn strong criticism from the international community.

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