April 10, 2001
His Excellency Joseph Kabila
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo
Fax: 011-234-88-02120 / 1-202-234-2609
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of press freedom conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo since you became president two months ago.
Most recently, Congolese National Police (PNC) officers arrested Washington Lutumba, a correspondent for the Kinshasa daily Le Potentiel. According to CPJ’s sources, Lutumba was detained for reporting that authorities had allowed wheat flour that was unfit for human consumption to be sold in the cities of Boma, Moanda, Banana, and Kinshasa.
Lutumba’s article appeared in the March 15 edition of Le Potentiel. He was arrested on March 30, and has been held at the Matadi central prison since then.
National Information Agency (ANR) officials recently detained Guy Kasongo Kilembwe, editor of the satirical weekly Pot Pourri, for nearly a month. Kilembwe was arrested on February 28, following the publication of several critical editorials about Your Excellency and members of your cabinet. Although Kilembwe was never formally charged, he was accused of defaming you and your colleagues.
Following weeks of petty harassment by prison officials, Kilembwe was finally released on March 22, after signing a document stating that he would never again criticize government officials. Local sources report that Kilembwe was severely beaten while in detention and that he signed the statement under duress.
On February 13, armed soldiers invaded the home of Clovis Kadda, editor of the twice-weekly newspaper L’Alarme. The attack was apparently prompted by an interview with former Congolese state official Honoré Ngbanda that was reprinted in the February 12 edition of L’Alarme. During the interview, which originally appeared in the Paris-based Jeune Afrique Economie, Ngbanda cast aspersions on Your Excellency’s parentage.
The soldiers did not find Kadda, who had gone into hiding. Instead, they robbed his family and did not leave until early the next morning.
CPJ has documented numerous other press freedom abuses perpetrated by your security forces. These include the unwarranted detention of visiting foreign reporters, the seizure of their equipment, and several illegal raids on the homes of Congolese journalists.
Central to any society’s ability to resolve disputes peacefully is the right to freedom of expression, which is granted to all people, including journalists, by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet official interference with the press was endemic under your late father’s rule. During his three years in power, CPJ documented 130 press freedom violations involving more than 200 journalists and 75 news outlets. It is alarming to see press freedom violations continuing today, despite Your Excellency’s frequent public statements about bringing peace to your war-torn country.
As an organization of journalists devoted to the welfare of our colleagues around the world, CPJ urges you to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Washington Lutumba, who has been jailed for nothing more than reporting on a matter of legitimate public concern. We also call on you to ensure that Congolese security forces cease harassing local and foreign journalists in reprisal for their work.
We thank you for your attention to these important matters, and await your comments.
Ann K. Cooper