President Denis Sassou-Nguesso’s Mbochi ethnic group dominates the government, including the subservient state-owned media. As in past years, journalists from the Kongo group of ousted President Pascal Lissouba and those from the Lari group of exiled former prime minister Bernard Kolelas suffered particular discrimination.
In the capital, Brazzaville, street battles raged all year between various armed militia: the pro-Kolelas “Ninjas,” the pro-Lissouba “Cocoyes,” and President Sassou-Nguesso’s Mbochi-dominated “Cobra” troops. On July 2, hundreds of Lari and Kongo civilians, including 27 journalists from the state-owned Radio-Télé Congo and the independent weekly newspapers Mweti and La Rue Meurt, two pro-Kolelas publications, fled to the forested Pool region, northwest of Brazzaville, to escape the government’s wrath. Many of these journalists later moved out of Brazzaville or left the country altogether and changed their profession.
Radio Liberté is President Sassou-Nguesso’s mouthpiece and the dominant state medium. Displaced within the country and surviving in appalling conditions, hundreds of thousands of Congolese rely on international media organizations for unbiased news of a “forgotten war” that has caused more than 30,000 deaths to date.
Since July 1996, Congolese journalists found guilty of “insulting the head of state” or “distributing false news” have faced six months to five years in prison and fines as high as CFA5,000,000. The government is currently drafting an even more repressive media bill. The proposed law would extend censorship to the Internet and lengthen the minimum jail sentence from six months to one year. It would also prohibit the unauthorized publication of government documents, statistics, and other official data.
Bienvenu Boudimbou, Africa Number 1 HARASSED
Africa Number 1 CENSORED
The Congolese government revoked the accreditation of Boudimbou, a Brazzaville-based local correspondent for the pan-African radio station Africa Number 1. Boudimbou had already been blacklisted by the authorities for being an alleged sympathizer of exiled former president Pascal Lissouba.
At the same time, the Congolese authorities suspended the radio station’s broadcasts on Brazzaville’s FM band, thereby also affecting Kinshasa, the capital of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The reason given was that Africa Number 1 supported the opposition. The suspension was lifted in mid-July.
Hervé Kiminou-Missou, Africa Number 1 IMPRISONED
Maurice Lemaire, AITV & Congolese National Television IMPRISONED
Kiminou-Missou, a correspondent for the Gabon-based pan-African radio station Africa Number 1, was apprehended in Pointe Noire by the Congolese air and frontier police while attempting to reach Cabinda, an Angolan enclave controlled by separatist groups.
No official explanation was offered for the reporter’s arrest. But sources at the Libreville-based Africa Number 1 said that Congolese police accused Kiminou-Missou of spying for exiled former president Pascal Lissouba after they found a pocket tape recorder in his luggage. Lissouba’s “Cocoyes,” a privately financed army, had recently been fighting the “Ninja” squads of President Denis Sassou Nguesso.
After his release from solitary confinement a week later, Kiminou-Missou said that he had been repeatedly questioned about his connection to the Angolan UNITA rebel forces and to Maurice Lemaire, a reporter for AITV and Congolese state TV. Lemaire was also arrested on May 31 in Pointe Noire for allegedly passing on information to members of Lissouba’s faction.
According to the Territorial Surveillance Division, some of Lemaire’s colleagues turned him in after they saw him faxing documents to a number of people close to former president Lissouba. The documents allegedly included a map of Pointe Noire showing where government forces were deployed.
Accused of conspiracy to overthrow President Sassou Nguesso, Lemaire was released on an unspecified date inDecember 1999.