Attacks on the Press 2002: Democratic Republic of Congo

In late December, warring parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) sealed a power-sharing deal, while the last foreign troops backing government or rebel groups prepared to withdraw from the vast, mineral-rich Central African nation. The latest agreement calls for a unity government, ending a four-year civil war that has ruined the country and killed thousands.

The peace accord–reached after a series of on-again, off-again talks following the April inter-Congolese dialogue in Sun City, South Africa–keeps President Joseph Kabila in power for two more years. During this period, four vice presidents, from both the armed and unarmed opposition, will prepare for the DRC’s first elections since independence in 1960. At year’s end, treaty signatories were considering a new constitution that is expected to safeguard basic liberties, including freedom of speech and the press.

Hailed as a landmark by foreign observers, the treaty failed to impress many Congolese, including journalists, who have grown cynical of halfhearted attempts at peace. Many journalists in the DRC argue that any viable accord must include a pledge by politicians to respect reporters’ rights. In the current context, however, such a promise seems unlikely. Although the overall number of attacks against journalists is decreasing as the war winds down, conditions remain tough. In 2002, most press abuses were perpetrated by the Kabila government and the two factions of the rebel Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), which controls the DRC’s northeast.

On December 9, rebels from the Rwanda-backed RCD faction closed the offices of Radio Maendeleo, a community broadcaster in the northeastern town of Bukavu, and arrested the station’s boss, Kizito Mushizi Nfundiko, and its chief of news programming, Omba Kamemgele. The rebels were apparently angered by a December 7 Radio Maendeleo newscast that included sound bites from citizens slamming the RCD’s new tax regime, which they said hurts the region’s already dismal economy. The journalists were released on December 11.

A few months earlier, on September 26, RCD rebels arrested several journalists from the private, South Kivu Province-based Radio Uvira after the province’s vice governor took offense at a news program that called life conditions there “moribund.”

In the capital, Kinshasa, government soldiers kidnapped human rights lawyer Sébastien Kayembe on October 15, burned his car, and took him to the outskirts of the city, where they beat and left him for dead in a gutter. Kayembe survived the attack, which came after he asked authorities to punish a prison guard accused of torturing two of Kayembe’s clients, journalists Delly Bonsange and Raymond Kabala, of the daily Alerte Plus. The two were picked up in July for falsely reporting that Minister of Public Order and Security Mwenze Kongolo had been poisoned. The paper ran a correction the next day, but to no avail. In September, a Kinshasa court convicted them of “harmful accusations” and “falsification of a public document” and sentenced them to prison. Bosange was released on December 3; Kabala remains in jail, one of only two Congolese journalists still serving time at year’s end, although three dozen were detained during 2002.

At the peak of the armed conflict two years ago, the DRC’s Court of Military Order (COM), a secretive institution whose rulings cannot be appealed, became the primary enforcer of Article 78 of the 1996 Press Law, which prescribes death for reporters convicted of betraying the state in time of war, insulting the army, demoralizing the nation, or disseminating false news. Officials have pardoned some reporters convicted by the COM before they could be executed.

The COM will again make headlines in early 2003, when it will hear final arguments in the trial of 130 people accused of involvement in the January 2001 assassination of Joseph Kabila’s father, then president Laurent-Désiré Kabila. All of the defendants, who include spouses, children, and relatives of the actual suspects, have pleaded not guilty. The verdicts were deferred until January 2003, and the media have been barred from most of the trial.

March 7

Wema Kennedy, Radio Muungano

Kennedy, head of Radio Muungano, was arrested by rebels from the Congolese Rally for Democracy for announcing on the air that the rebel’s chief was not at peace talks being held in Sun City, South Africa. Kennedy was reportedly freed a few days later.

March 9

Raphael Paluku Kyana, Radio Rurale de Kanyabayonga

Kyana, director of community radio station Radio Rurale de Kanyabayonga, was arrested in Bunagana, a town located on the DRC-Uganda border, by Immigration Department officials of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD). His captors accused him of traveling through rebel-held territory without authorization and confiscated his personal belongings.

Kyana was traveling to Nairobi for a training workshop at the All-African Council of Churches’ Communications Training Center. Following this workshop, he planned to travel to Mbuji-Mayi, a Congolese town located in the area under the Kinshasa government’s control, to attend a Congolese Community Radio Stations’ Association meeting.

Journalists in the DRC are prohibited from entering RCD-controlled zones without authorization from rebel officials. According to Congolese sources, the restrictions have made it extremely difficult for journalists to cover events in the northern and eastern parts of the country during the 4-year-old conflict between the DRC and rebels backed principally by Rwanda and Uganda.

Following protests from local and international human rights organizations, Kyana was freed on March 14. His belongings and money were not returned to him upon his release. The following day, rebel agents attacked human rights activist Richard Muhindo Bayunda when he went to RCD authorities to protest Kyana’s detention. Bayunda had refused to pay the rebels a bribe to stop them from re-arresting Kyana, and he had demanded that they return Kyana’s belongings.

June 7

Nyemabo Kalenga, La Tribune

Kalenga, publisher of the independent biweekly La Tribune, was detained for more than 10 hours at the National Intelligence Agency offices, where he was questioned about his sources for an article that had appeared in the May 9 edition of the paper about a financial scandal involving a Lebanese citizen residing in the capital, Kinshasa.

According to the local press freedom group Journaliste En Danger, Kalenga published a copy of a letter he had obtained from the Congolese foreign minister to the Lebanese ambassador asking him to intervene in the investigation into the business dealings of the Lebanese community in Kinshasa. Kalenga was released later that evening.

June 19

Félix Kabuizi, La Référence Plus

Kabuizi, publication director of the independent Kinshasa daily La Référence Plus, was called in for questioning by members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) and interrogated for six hours about a June 18 La Référence Plus story that reported on the disappearance of seven leaders of a rebel movement in the eastern part of the country. The ANR agents warned Kabuizi not to write about such issues, claiming it could discourage former rebels now engaged in the peace process from returning to the country. The journalist was released later the same day.

July 11

Raymond Luaula, La Tempête des Tropiques
Bamporiki Chamira, La Tempête des Tropiques

Luaula and Chamira, publication director and chief investigative reporter, respectively, for the independent daily La Tempête des Tropiques, and three other newspaper employees who are not journalists, were arrested and taken to the Special Services holding center in the capital, Kinshasa, where they were interrogated in connection with an article that had appeared in the July 10 edition of the paper. The article reported on a July 8 street confrontation between civilians and soldiers that had turned violent, resulting in four deaths and substantial material damage.

In addition, police seized the entire print run of the newspaper’s July 11 edition. All five media workers were released the same evening on the condition that the paper print a correction to the story, which appeared on the front page of the next day’s issue.

July 16

Arnaud Zajtman, BBC

Zajtman, the BBC’s DRC correspondent, was banned from covering activities in the eastern part of the country, which is controlled by the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD). In early July, Zajtman had obtained permission by e-mail from the RCD’s information officer to enter the rebel-controlled territory. Zajtman says he was intending to research the story of Patrick Masunzu, a former RCD commander who has recently led an insurgency against the RCD command.

According to Zajtman, the e-mail letter of permission may have been sent without the consent of RCD president Adolphe Onusumba. On July 16, Zajtman received another e-mail from the RCD information officer denying him permission to enter the area under their control. The e-mail read, “Your offensive references to our president and the contempt and disrespect you have shown for our leadership oblige me to withdraw my permission.”

Zajtman told CPJ that the ban most likely stemmed from a story he had filed for the BBC Africa service on May 26 about the massacre of about 200 people by RCD forces in Kisangani. Just before filing the report, Zajtman said he received a telephone call from Onusumba, who threatened to take Zajtman to court over the story. He also warned Zajtman that if the report were broadcast, he would see that the journalist is never allowed to report from rebel-controlled areas again.

July 19

Raymond Kabala, Alerte Plus
Delly Bonsange, Alerte Plus

Kabala, publication director of the independent Kinshasa daily Alerte Plus, was arrested by plainclothes police officers and detained at the provincial police department. The next day, he was transferred to Kinshasa’s Penitentiary and Re-education Center (CPRK).

According to local sources, Kabala’s arrest stemmed from a July 11 Alerte Plus article reporting that Minister of Public Order and Security Mwenze Kongolo had allegedly been poisoned. The newspaper learned that the information was false and published a correction the next day. According to the local press freedom group Journaliste En Danger (JED), Kabala claims that authorities repeatedly questioned him about the article’s sources and tortured him during his detention.

On the afternoon of July 22, officers of the Kinshasa/Matete Appeals Court Prosecutor’s Office arrested Bonsange, who had written the offending article. The journalist spent the night in police custody, and authorities questioned him about the report the next day. He was later transferred to the CPRK.

On September 6, a Kinshasa court convicted Kabala and Bonsange of “harmful accusations,” “writing falsehoods,” and “falsification of a public document.” Kabala was sentenced to 12 months in prison and fined US$200,000. Bonsange was sentenced to six months and fined US$100,000.

According to a JED representative who attended the court proceedings, the “falsification of a public document” conviction was based on the fact that the actual address of Alerte Plus’s office differs from the one listed in the paper.

On September 26, Bonsange was transferred to Kinshasa’s General Hospital after a doctor found his blood sugar levels unusually high. The journalist told JED that, during the first days of his detention, officials had barred him from taking his diabetes medication and following his usual diet.

According to JED, on November 21, a Kinshasa appeals court ruled that the charge against Bonsange of “writing falsehoods” was unfounded but upheld the charge of “falsification of a public document.” The journalist’s six-month prison sentence was dropped, and he was released on December 3. He was, however, fined US$750. The court upheld the charges against Kabala but reduced his prison sentence from 12 to seven months. He remained in prison at year’s end.

July 24

Radio Fraternité Buena Muntu
Radio Télévision Débout Kasaï
Radio Télé Inter Viens et Vois

Independent East Kasaï-based broadcasters Radio Fraternité Buena Muntu (RFBM), Radio Télévision Débout Kasaï (RTDK), and Radio Télé Inter Viens et Vois (RTIV) were banned from covering news about an opposition leader.

Justin Mpoyi, the National Intelligence Agency assistant director for East Kasaï Province, summoned Ghislain Banza, interim director general of RFBM; Didier Kabuya, marketing director of RTDK; and Kadima Mukombe Katende Didier, programming director of RTIV, to his office in Mbuji-Mayi. Mpoyi ordered the three to stop broadcasting news about Étienne Tshisekedi, president of the DRC’s main opposition party, the Union Pour La Démocratie et Le Progrès Social.

According to the Congolese press freedom group Journaliste En Danger, the stations were forbidden to “quote the name of, refer to or broadcast pictures of Mr. Etienne Tshisekedi in any programs.” The journalists were told that if they violated the ban they would be “punished with the utmost rigor of the law.”

July 31

Achille Ekele N’Golyma, Pot-Pourri

Damien Baita, Pot-Pourri

N’Golyma and Baita, publisher and editor-in-chief, respectively, of the satirical weekly Pot-Pourri, were detained without a warrant by plainclothes detectives at a popular cafe in the capital, Kinshasa.

Both men were taken to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, where Baita was released after an identity check. Officers told him they had mistaken him for Gogin Kifwakiou, a writer for the private weekly Vision.

ý’Golyma remained in custody in connection with a criminal libel complaint filed by opposition politician Joseph Olenghankoy. According to the local press freedom group Journaliste En Danger (JED), Olenghankoy had sued the paper over a July 23 article alleging that members of the politician’s faction were arguing about the distribution of money that President Joseph Kabila had given to them. The paper accused Olenghankoy of taking most of the money.

State prosecutors later queried N’Golyma about his sources. After the journalist refused to reveal them, police manhandled him. JED activists who visited N’Golyma at a local pretrial detention center reported that he had sustained minor injuries to his left hand and chest. He was released on August 15 after state prosecutors dropped the case.

September 13

Franklin Moliba-Sese, Radio Okapi

Moliba-Sese, a reporter for the United Nations-operated Radio Okapi, was arrested in the northwestern town of Gbadolite by fighters from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), an armed rebel group opposed to the government of President Joseph Kabila. According to sources in the capital, Kinshasa, the MLC rebels detained Moliba-Sese in reprisal for a report he had recently filed about the poor living conditions of thousands of MLC child soldiers.

On September 14, MLC rebels in Gbadolite told representatives of the U.N. peacekeeping mission that Moliba-Sese was not under arrest but was being held so they could interview him. However, the U.N.’s Integrated Regional Information Networks reported on September 18 that the journalist had been transferred to a local jail.

Moliba-Sese was released on September 21 on the orders of the Gbadolite Public Prosecutor’s Office. According to Radio Okapi, the MLC said that it detained Moliba-Sese because he had interviewed child soldiers without authorization and had divulged sensitive military information.

December 9

Radio Maendeleo

Kizito Mushizi Nfundiko, Radio Maendeleo
Omba Kamengele, Radio Maendeleo

Agents from the Rassemblement Congolais Pour la Démocratie (Rally for Congolese Democracy, or RCD), the rebel movement that controls a large part of eastern DRC with the support of neighboring Rwanda, closed the offices of Radio Maendeleo, a community station run by local nongovernmental organizations in Bukavu, the major city of South Kivu Province.

All of the station’s employees, as well as visitors to the station’s library and Internet café, which is adjacent to the studio, were briefly detained while the rebels entered the station. The rebels arrested Radio Maendeleo director Nfundiko and news director Kamengele.

An RCD spokesperson explained that Radio Maendeleo was being indefinitely suspended for broadcasting political content, which the station’s license prohibits. The rebels were apparently angered by a December 7 Radio Maendeleo broadcast that included sound bites from citizens criticizing the RCD’s new tax regime. The RCD had declined an invitation to participate in the program. Mushizi and Kamengele were released on December 11. The station remained suspended at year’s end.

December 31

Kadima Mukombe, Radio Kilimandjaro

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