CPJ condemns harassment of journalists covering opposition protests

New York, June 30, 2005—Security forces today harassed and detained several journalists covering opposition protests in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, and at least one camera operator was still being held at the end of the day, according to local sources. A presidential spokesperson told the Committee Protect Journalists that any journalists detained while doing their work would be released.

Members of the presidential guard arrested Basile Kokwalet, a Congolese cameraman for French public service television RFO-AITV, at about 6 a.m. local time as he was filming the start of the demonstration, according to a colleague who witnessed the arrest. Agents held Kokwalet at gunpoint, seized his equipment, and took him to the headquarters of the presidential guard.

Security forces also detained Didier Lofombo, a camera operator with the private Kinshasa television station Horizon 33, holding him for about three hours, according to local journalists.

Kadura Kasongo, President Joseph Kabila’s spokesman, told CPJ that he instructed police to release any journalists detained while doing their work. Kasongo said they would be released by the end of the day, but he could not provide further details.

“Opposition protests are no excuse for harassing and detaining journalists who are merely doing their jobs,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We see no reason that Basile Kokwalet should be in custody.”

Several people were reported killed across the country, according to Agence France-Presse, as police today fired on hundreds of opposition supporters protesting delays in democratic elections. Reuters quoted a UN spokesperson as saying at least two people were confirmed dead in Kinshasa, with about 20 injured and 400 arrested.

Elections should have taken place by the end of June, according to a 2002 peace agreement. However, electoral registration has only just begun and Parliament this month voted for a six-month delay in the vote. Today’s protests were called by the UDPS opposition party of veteran politician Etienne Tshisikedi, which is not part of the transition government.