During the four years that he ruled the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila compiled one of Africa’s worst press freedom records. On January 4, 2001, the last three journalists jailed by Kabila were released on the president’s personal orders. Two weeks later, Kabila was assassinated.
According to Congolese journalists, Kabila’s murder by a disgruntled security aide followed a rift between the late leader and his top army chiefs over the prosecution of a war against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda. Labeled Africa’s first world war, the 4-year-old conflict involves six African governments, three major rebel movements, and a host of smaller armed opposition groups, all of which have contributed to the erosion of press freedom and other civil liberties in the DRC.
Laurent-Désiré Kabila was succeeded by his son, Joseph, who inherited not only a seemingly intractable conflict but also a staggering legacy of human rights abuses. Although Joseph Kabila promised respect for civil liberties and encouraged opposition political activities, he appeared uncomfortable with the outspokenness of local media, particularly during the surge of political violence during the transition period.
In early February, the Kinshasa regime rounded up and shot a dozen Lebanese businessmen accused of involvement in a conspiracy to kill Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Gen. Eddie Kapend, an influential cabinet member who seemed to have taken charge of the government just after Kabila’s death, was also placed under arrest. Journalists covering the events were harassed by the authorities, or even jailed.
On February 28, police picked up Kasongo Kilembwe of the satirical weekly Pot-Pourri for publishing a cartoon lampooning the new president. Kilembwe was never charged; he was released on March 22. In mid-February, a police squad raided Victoire Square in the capital, Kinshasa, and arrested half a dozen newspaper vendors who were selling copies of the private weekly Alerte Plus. The issue contained allegations that 16 top military officers had been arrested in connection with the murder of Kabila père.
Congolese police also harassed foreign journalists. On February 17, soldiers roughed up and robbed Khan Jooneed from the Montreal daily La Presse. Two days earlier, Egyptian journalist Yehia Ghanem, South African bureau chief for the Cairo daily Al Ahram, was detained for questioning.
Stung by widespread international criticism of the DRC’s press freedom and human rights record, the new authorities agreed to shut down “all detention centers that are not answerable to the public prosecutor’s offices.” The announcement was a victory for the local press freedom group Journalists En Danger (JED), which had lobbied for the closure of the detention centers because they were often used to confine independent journalists, many of whom were mistreated while in jail. (Pot-Pourri‘s Guy Kasongo Kilembwe was held in one such center after his February 28 arrest.)
While the civil war devastated the DRC’s economy, it somehow led to an unparalleled proliferation of private and community radio and television stations, many of them associated with various Congolese rebel groups or political factions. Despite President Joseph Kabila’s promise to improve relations with opposition parties, the Kinshasa authorities remained highly sensitive about any positive news coverage of opposition figures.
In April, after the private RAGA television aired a trailer announcing the broadcast of an interview with opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, authorities raided the station and confiscated the videotape, which remained in government custody at year’s end.
On May 21, Minister of Communications and Press Kikaya bin Karubi announced that eight community radio and television stations in Lower Congo Province would be banned as of June 30. The minister claimed the stations were “not operating in accordance with Law 96-002 of June 1996, which regulates the exercise of the media in the DRC.”
According to the Congolese Association of Community Radio Stations (ARCO), the minister demanded that each of the broadcasters pay US$5,000 in overdue registration fees. ARCO insisted that all the stations had already paid US$2,500 each to the Ministry of Posts, Telephones and Telecommunications, which allocates frequencies.
On July 22, as the argument intensified, Communications Minister bin Karubi defended the new registration fee structure and denounced what he described as “the anarchic occupation of the audio-visual space by private and religious radio and television stations, which air demoralizing programs all day long and programs that incite young people and women to debauchery, and idleness by promising low-cost pleasures, joy and miracles.”
The minister promised to pass new regulations requiring that the signals of such programs be scrambled, but the rules had still not been made public as of December 31.
Meanwhile, on August 8, the leadership of the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) rebel forces, which control the northeastern Kivu region, lifted a two-year ban on the community station Radio Maendeleo in the town of Bukavu. RCD officials pulled the plug on Radio Maendeleo in July 1999 to silence the station’s coverage of the rebel group’s rampant human rights abuses in the region.
In the government-controlled south, meanwhile, Communications Minister bin Karubi issued an October 13 decree reversing the forced nationalization of the private radio and television stations RTKM and Canal Kin.
ýhe late Laurent-Désiré Kabila nationalized both stations in 2000. (Government authorities charged at the time that the stations were built with public funds embezzled under the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was deposed in May 1997). RTKM is the property of Aubin Ngongo Luwowo, an exiled former official under Mobutu, while Canal Kin belongs to Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Uganda-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), which controls large swathes of territory in the northeast.
In an effort to get political mileage out of a visit by U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to the rebel-controlled northeastern town of Kisangani in late August, the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) invited journalists from Kinshasa to visit Kisangani as well as other towns in the region where there have been persistent reports of massive human rights abuses.
The rebels said the visit would allow journalists living in government-controlled areas “to see for themselves the reality of the situation in the region” under their control.
Jean-Luc Kinyongo Saleh, Vision
Police officers arrested Saleh, editor and publisher of the biweekly newspaper Vision, at the paper’s offices. He was held for three days at Kinshasa’s main pretrial detention center before being moved to an undisclosed location.
Local sources linked Saleh’s arrest to the publication of “Denis Kalume Numbi, Virtual Prime Minister,” an opinion piece for the February 8 edition of Vision in which Saleh accused Interior Minister Gatan Kakudji of supporting his ostentatious lifestyle with public funds.
The journalist managed to escape from prison in late February and has been in hiding ever since.
On March 16, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to immediate arrest and four months’ imprisonment, reportedly for defamation. The Congolese High Court also ordered him to pay US$2,500 in damages to Kakudji.
Jean Kabongo, a lawyer for Vision, called the sentencing of Saleh a political affair and charged that neither Saleh nor the newspaper were informed of any hearings before the sentence was issued, according to local sources.
Clovis Kaddah, L’Alarme
Four plainclothes police officers invaded the home of Kaddah, editor of the semiweekly Kinshasa publication L’Alarme. Kaddah had been tipped off about the raid and hid until the officers left.
The armed men remained on the premises for more than 12 hours, harassing and robbing Kaddah’s relatives and visitors.
The journalist, whose paper had recently been accused of publishing without a license, was said to have been singled out because of a February 12 L’Alarme interview with Honor Ngbanda, former special security counselor to the late Congolese president Mobutu Sese Seko.
In the interview, Ngbanda raised questions about the official biography of President Joseph Kabila, who replaced his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, after the latter was murdered in mid-January.
The interview originally appeared in the Paris-based magazine Jeune Afrique Economie.
Guy Kasongo Kilembwe, Pot-Pourri
Kilembwe, editor of the satirical weekly Pot-Pourri, was arrested for allegedly insulting President Joseph Kabila. No charges were filed.
Police claimed that the February 23 edition of Pot-Pourri contained an unflattering, insulting caricature of Kabila. During Kilembwe’s interrogation, the police claimed that Pot-Pourri had demonstrated hatred of a number of state officials, including the president.
Kilembwe was released without charge on March 22, after signing a statement in which he promised “never again [to] write articles that are hostile to” the regime in power in Kinshasa. He was also ordered to submit a written apology to the government.
Washington Lutumba, Le Potentiel
Jules-César Mayimbi, Forum
Congolese National Police officers detained Lutumba, a correspondent for the Kinshasa daily Le Potentiel, over a March 15 article in which he reported that some 45 tons of tainted wheat flour unfit for human consumption were being sold in the towns of Boma, Moanda, and Banana, in the Lower Congo Province.
On April 5, police arrested Mayimbi, Matadi correspondent for the private Kinshasa daily Forum, after he filed a report that quoted eyewitness accounts to confirm Lutumba’s allegations.
The two journalists were taken into custody following a complaint by Boulangerie Joseph, a chain of bakeries headquartered in the neighboring Republic of the Congo, claiming that the articles had negatively affected its business and reputation. Both Lutumba and Mayimba had suggested that Boulangerie Joseph was responsible for delivering the tainted wheat to local markets, and that it should therefore be held accountable.
Lutumba and Mayimba were held on criminal defamation charges at the central prison in Matadi, capital of the Lower Congo Province. They were both released on May 18 pending further investigations.
On May 28, the Matadi court convicted them as charged and sentenced them each to a 45-day jail term and a US$70 fine. However, they were given credit for time served in pretrial detention and then released.
Kasongo Mukishi, L’Avenir
Mukishi, who writes on human rights issues for the daily L’Avenir, was manhandled by Dido Kitungwa, director of the notorious Kokolo Penitentiary and Reeducation Center, in the capital, Kinshasa.
At the time of the incident, Mukishi was attending a legal clinic for prison inmates given by the Congolese Bar Association’s human rights committee.
Kitungwa assaulted Mukishi while the journalist was interviewing inmates about the abuses they had endured in prison. The enraged official then ordered prison guards to hold the journalist hostage until he agreed to hand over his notebook.
Several visiting lawyers intervened with Kitungwa, who eventually released Mukishi after cautioning the journalist against negative reporting.
Officials from President Joseph Kabila’s office confiscated the videotape of an interview that the private television station RAGA TV had conducted with an opposition leader.
On April 24, RAGA TV interviewed Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, president of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress. The interview was scheduled to air on April 29.
According to the Kinshasa-based press freedom organization Journaliste en Danger (JED), Tshisekedi said during the interview that he did not recognize Joseph Kabila as the legitimate president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sources in Kinshasa told CPJ that Congolese National Police agents prevented journalists from covering the exiled Tshisekedi’s April 23 arrival at Kinshasa/N’Dhili International Airport. Some 20 journalists were locked in a hangar until Tshisekedi’s procession had left the airport.
JED reported that the confiscated interview tape was being held by a high-level official in the president’s office and that it had been shown to Minister of Communication Kikaya bin Karubi. By year’s end, the tape had still not been returned and the program had not been broadcast.
La Libre Afrique
La Libre Afrique, a controversial Kinshasa-based weekly, was banned by Information Minister Kikaya Bin Karubi. Its two supplements, Le Derby and the satirical leaflet Incognito, were also banned.
Citing a provision in the June 1996 Press Law, Minister Bin Karubi claimed that publisher Freddy Loseke Lisumbu La Yayenga had acquired his publication license fraudulently, and that his papers did not mention their printer’s address, a legal requirement.
The minister also questioned Loseke’s journalistic ethics.
Local sources concurred that the ban resulted from an editorial in La Libre Afrique criticizing the Zimbabwean army, an ally of the Congolese government in its war against rebels backed by Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.
The editorial accused Zimbabwean troops of spreading AIDS and failing to recapture any Congo territory currently controlled by rebels or foreign forces opposed to the regime of Congolese president Joseph Kabila. The paper also complained that, at US$20 a day, Zimbabwean troops were far better paid than Congolese soldiers.
The United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network quoted a Zimbabwean military spokesperson as saying that he had “heard about the story” and had “handed the matter to the Ministry of Information.” Minister Bin Karubi, a former ambassador to Zimbabwe, denied that he had acted under pressure from higher authorities, according to the local press freedom advocacy group Journaliste en Danger.
Congolese journalists contacted by CPJ pointed out that the minister’s decision contravened the Congolese Press Law, which states that only the High Court can ban publications, while the Ministry of Information can only ban specific issues of publications.
Loseke continued publishing La Libre Afrique in defiance of the ban. No official reaction had been reported by year’s end.
Freddy Loseke, La Libre Afrique
Loseke, publisher of La Libre Afrique, was convicted of defaming Belgian businessman Vincent Jullet, manager of the private aviation company WaltAir, and Sony Kafuta, a pastor of the Christian congregation Arme de L’Eternel (God’s Army).
In April, La Libre Afrique reported that Jullet had used unfair means to smother his competition in the local aviation industry. In a May 15 story, the paper reported that Kafuta owed US$400 to a local mechanic for repair work done on his car, and US$1,000 more in unspecified debts.
The article also charged that after the mechanic asked Kafuta to pay for the car repairs, the clergyman claimed to be a relative of a prominent government official and threatened the mechanic with legal action.
On September 17, a Kinsasha court found Loseke guilty of defaming Jullet and sentenced him to serve 12 months in prison without parole. The court also convicted Loseke of defaming Kafuta and sentenced him to a prison term of five months, of which three months were suspended.
Loseke’s legal team appealed the ruling, but he was unconditionally released on November 6, before the appeal could be heard. The release was apparently ordered by Justice Minister Ngele Masudi, according to the DRC-based Journaliste En Danger.
Joachim Diana Gikupa, L’Avenir
Agents from the National Information Agency (ANR), a state investigative unit, arrested Gikupa, publication director for the Kinshasa daily L’Avenir. According to Gikupa’s colleagues, ANR agents called the paper’s office to invite him to a “press consultation.” The journalist left his office soon after to meet the agents at their downtown Kinshasa headquarters.
On Friday, June 15, the ANR confirmed that it was detaining Gikupa. The agency said the detention resulted from Gikupa’s June 8 article about attempts by some of President Joseph Kabila’s advisers to prevent a prominent member of the late president Mobutu Sese Seko’s regime from holding a press conference.
L’Avenir also a published a copy of a signed note by Professor Théophile Bemba Fundu, President Joseph Kabila’s cabinet director, to support journalist Gikupa’s allegations.
The letter was handwritten on Office of the President letterhead and was addressed to “Mister Administrator.” Fundu asked the addressee to “take all possible measures” to ensure that the press conference did not take place “as it risks causing a further drop in the head of state’s political standing.” (ANR agents claimed the letter was a forgery.)
Gukupa was released without charge on June 22.
Pierre Kapepa, Le Moniteur
Rigobert Kwakala Kashama, Le Moniteur
Marcel Guy Mujanayi, Le Moniteur
Kinshasa police arrested Mujanayi, a reporter for the private twice-weekly newspaper Le Moniteur, and Kashama and Kapeka, the paper’s publisher and associate publisher, respectively.
The arrests came after Le Moniteur published a number of articles criticizing the Congolese Air Authority (RVA) and its director.
No charges were filed against Mujanayi, who wrote the stories. He was released on July 30.
According to the police, the 1996 Congolese Press Law mandates that newspaper owners are responsible for offenses committed by journalists they employ. No formal charges were filed, but sources in Kinshasa say police accused Kashama and Kapeka of inciting Mujanayi to defame the RVA and its director.
The publishers were unconditionally released on the afternoon of August 2.
François Mada Mbulungu, La Manchette
Mbulungu, publisher of the Kinshasa twice-weekly newspaper La Manchette, was held for two days in an underground cell at the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Gombe, an upscale district of the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.
The journalist had responded to a summons in connection with two stories he wrote in a July edition of La Manchette.
According to the local press freedom group Journaliste En Danger, authorities accused Mbulungu of making “libellous accusations” against Ashur Satar, president of the Lebanese community in the DRC, for writing that DRC-based Lebanese were sabotaging the local economy.
Mbulungu was also accused of defaming M. Kamanda, the financial administrator of the government’s Office of Maritime Freight, over an article in which he alleged financial impropriety at the office.
Mbulungu was never formally charged and was unconditionally released on August 8.
Kainda Kalenga, La Fregate
Kalenga, publisher of the weekly La Fregate, was picked up by police at his residence in Lubumbashi, the capital of Congo’s Katanga Province. The officers said they were acting on orders fromthe Lubumbashi High Court Prosecutor’s Office.
Kalenga is charged with defaming Belgian businessman Malta Forrest, owner of the Forrest Group, who claims that an October 3 article in La Fregate ruined his reputation by accusing his son of being a racist.
The report also railed against the local court’s failure to probe alleged criminal activity by the Forrests, including widespread charges that Congolese employees of the Forrest Group were being paid less than their Belgian or white colleagues for equal work.
No trial date has been set, and Kalenga was released three days later.
Crispin Kalala Mpotoyi, Debout Kasai
Mpotoyi, director of the private television station Debout Kasai, was arrested at his office and charged with defamation.
The journalist was released three days later after posting a US$500 bail.
Officials accused Mpotoyi of defaming political and military authorities in the Kasai region, as well as managers of the diamond mining firms MIBA and Sengamines.
The accusation stemmed from comments that Mpotoyi made on his Tshiluba-language weekly television program, “Diamant Dia Kasai” (Diamonds of Kasai).
The program, which was banned soon after Mpotoyi’s October 13 release, was popular among Kasai residents for its unabashed criticisms of what they view as systematic looting of the region’s mineral resources. Mpotoyi had reportedly complained that revenues from diamond sales did not benefit the people of Kasai, most of whom live in squalid conditions without drinking water or electricity.
Kisanga Yenge, Les Coulisses
Rebels from the Congolese Rally for Democracy arrested Yenge, a reporter for the private weekly Les Coulisses, in the northern town of Kisangani. He was held in the town’s Department of Security and Intelligence building in connection with an article in which he denounced a local vice governor for allegedly misappropriating textiles.
Yenge’s friends and relatives were not allowed to visit him in detention. The journalist was released on November 3.
Gilbert Kasanda Kabala, Agence Congolaise de Presse
Police in Kananga, the capital of Congo’s Western Kasai Province, arrested Kabala, the local correspondent for the official news service Agence Congolaise de Presse, at his office and drove him to the regional police headquarters.
Kabala’s employer later confirmed the journalist’s arrest, saying Kabala was accused of defaming the Kananga police force in a report about seven police officers who allegedly raped a local woman.
Kabala was released on November 10.
Guy Kasongo Kilembwe, Pot-Pourri
Kilembwe, editor-in-chief of the Kinshasa-based satirical newspaper Pot-Pourri, was arrested by Special Services agents and taken to the State Security Court in Kinshasa. He was charged with “threatening state security” and “insulting the person of the head of state” and was detained for 48 hours. Vicky Bolingola, the newsroom secretary, was also arrested and detained on the same charges.
The State Security Court’s prosecutor released both on January 3, 2002. No official reason was given for their sudden release.