CPJ outraged at forced closure of community radio station

New York, May 18, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the closing yesterday of Radiotélévision Kasaï (RTDK), a community radio station in the central diamond mining town of Mbuji-Mayi where at least three people were killed in violent anti-government protests. The local governor accused the radio station of inciting violence, but RTDK and local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) said the station was merely reporting the news.

“We call for the immediate and unconditional reopening of RTDK,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today. “It’s imperative that the media be allowed to work freely and without fear of reprisal during the country’s transition to democracy.”

RTDK director Isaac Lambert Mbuyi Kana told CPJ that armed police surrounded the radio station last night, ordered it off the air, and told the staff to leave the premises. Police said they were acting on the orders of the provincial governor, Dominique Kanku, but gave no reason and produced no judicial order. Armed police are now guarding the station.

In a telephone interview with CPJ, Kanku compared the station to the notorious Rwandan radio station RTLM, which incited Hutus to kill Tutsis during the 1994 genocide. Kanku claimed that statements broadcast by RTDK had sparked yesterday’s violent protests, but he could cite no specific comments. He acknowledged that he had not prepared any legal order closing the station, but said the closing was a “preventive measure” and he had a duty to protect the population.

Mbuyi Kana denied the governor’s accusations, saying the radio station had simply reported on rising tensions in the town and on the circulation of fliers calling for a two-day, stay-at-home protest. He said yesterday’s unrest was sparked by the fact that the town had been without running water for two days, and news that national elections would be delayed.

Under a peace agreement, DRC was supposed to hold presidential elections by June 30 this year, but administrative and legislative foot-dragging has delayed the vote and no new date has been set. A new constitution, adopted by Parliament this week, provides for an election by June 2006.

Demonstrators in Mbuji-Mayi yesterday set fire to the offices of the RCD and MLC political parties, whose leaders are vice presidents in the national transition government, The Associated Press reported. Kinshasa newspapers reported today that as many as seven people died in the unrest.