Press conditions worsen nationwide

New York, November 3, 2005—Franck Kangundu, a veteran political affairs journalist at the independent daily La Référence Plus, was shot dead shortly after midnight by unidentified assassins who accosted him at his home in the capital, Kinshasa. The attackers also killed Kangundu’s wife, Hélène Mpaka.

The Kinshasa-based press freedom organization Journaliste en Danger (JED) reported that several masked men approached Kangundu in front of his house, forced their way in, and shot his wife as she tried to escape. When Kangundu offered them money and his car if they would let him go, the assailants replied that they had been “sent to kill him,” according to witnesses interviewed by JED whose names were withheld. The assailants took the journalist’s mobile phone before leaving.

The motive for the killings is unknown. CPJ is investigating whether Kangundu was targeted for his journalistic work.

Kangundu, 52, worked for La Référence Plus for more than 10 years and was well-respected by his colleagues, local journalists said. He covered a variety of topics for the newspaper, including the sometimes acrimonious relations between political parties in the DRC’s power-sharing government, as well as business and economic issues.

“CPJ mourns the death of our colleague Franck Kangundu and his wife, Hélène Mpaka, in this appalling attack,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “Congolese authorities must ensure a prompt, transparent investigation, and those responsible must be swiftly brought to justice.”

CPJ is also troubled by government security forces’ detention of two Kinshasa-based journalists in the past week, the latest indication of deteriorating press freedom conditions in the troubled central African country.

On Wednesday, security forces arrested Patrice Booto, publisher of the thrice-weekly Le Journal and its sister publication, Pool Malebo. Booto was detained at a police station in the capital, but he was not publicly charged, according to JED. Both publications were suspended for three months in September by the independent but officially sanctioned High Authority on Media (HAM), after they published articles alleging that the DRC government had given a large sum of money to Tanzanian education agencies. Some local sources suspected that the HAM’s action was the product of political pressure.

Jean-Marie Kanku, publisher of the private newspaper L’Alerte, was arrested on October 28 by the national intelligence agency, known as the ANR, and remains in detention, according to JED. However, there has been no official acknowledgment or explanation for Kanku’s arrest, and he has not been publicly charged. His family has not been allowed to visit him, and his health is deteriorating, JED reported this week. Kanku was arrested after L’Alerte printed an interview with Member of Parliament Thierry Bongo, who attacked ANR director Lando Lurhakumbirwa.