CPJ condemns threats against leading press freedom group

New York, December 13, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces the threatening messages sent to the local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) a day after it released a hard-hitting report on abuses against journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On December 10, JED President Donat M’baya Tshimanga, Secretary-General Tshivis Tshivuadi, and staff members Charles Mushizi and Esther Banakayi all received an identical, anonymous text message on their mobile phones. The message said: “You are going to disappear one by one if you do not publicly announce that you are stopping your activities. You have 10 days.” The message also threatened their families, according to JED. Efforts to trace the owner of the phone were to no avail, the organization added.

The threats came just a day after the release of JED’s annual report, which denounced a high number of attacks on the media in 2005, with imprisoned cases sharply up and a journalist assassinated. JED called the November murder of Franck Kangundu, a veteran political affairs journalist with the independent daily La Référence Plus, “the incident that most marked the year” and reiterated its call for an independent inquiry, saying this was “the only way to establish the truth in this crime which cost the lives of the journalist and his wife.” JED has expressed skepticism about the results of a police inquiry and contested the police claim that the murder was motivated by money.

JED’s report received wide coverage in the local and international media. The organization has become a vital source of news on press freedom abuses and media conditions in the DRC. Its reports are distributed both within the country and around the world through its membership in the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX).

“We denounce these ugly threats against a courageous group that is playing a vital role in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the government of President Joseph Kabila to take urgent steps to ensure the security of all journalists and press freedom activists, especially in the run-up to historic elections next year.”

JED has been the target of earlier threats. An e-mail sent to JED in April contained death threats against M’baya and Tshivuadi, as well as their families. They had previously received anonymous threatening phone calls and been maligned on state television.