Attacks on the press rise in run-up to elections

New York, May 23, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed at a spate of attacks on the press in the run-up to the July 30 elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On Monday, armed assailants smashed and looted equipment at Kinshasa-based broadcaster Radiotélévision Message de Vie (RTMV), forcing it off the air for the second time this month, according to CPJ sources. The press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) reported anonymous death threats against its staff members. And in the southern city of Lubumbashi, a state television journalist was injured after being kidnapped and abandoned in the countryside.

“Press freedom is vital as the nation approaches this historic vote,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “There is simply no excuse for violent attacks and threats against the media.” Voters in DRC will choose a president and members of parliament in the first democratic elections since independence in 1960.

Several sources told CPJ they believe RTMV’s attackers, although dressed in civilian clothes, were state security agents. A report on the Web site of the United Nations-backed radio station Radio Okapi said they were police. The attack came after RTMV broadcast a May 14 rally by evangelist pastor Fernando Kuthino, whose church owns RTMV and who was jailed after expressing political views at the rally. Armed police also sabotaged RTMV’s broadcasts on May 14, JED reported, and forced it off air for three days. Local journalists said they believed that action was intended to prevent RTMV from broadcasting Kuthino’s rally and the scene of his arrest.

Meanwhile, JED said several of its staffers received an anonymous May 20 e-mail saying they should “choose which coffin you want.” It also threatened their families and claimed that “we know all your homes and schools.” JED has been threatened several times in the past, notably after it conducted an investigation into the unsolved 2005 murder of Franck Ngycke Kangundu and his wife, Hélène Mpaka. For more information, see CPJ’s February 10 letter to President Joseph Kabila:

A serious attack on a journalist was also reported in the southeastern town of Lubumbashi. State television reporter Ricky Nzuzi was waiting for a ride to work in the early hours of May 18 when he was approached by a car he thought was a taxi, according to local journalists. He was kidnapped, beaten, robbed and abandoned in the bush late the following night. Local journalists said they believed the attack could be linked to Nzuzi’s work.

“We call on authorities in Lubumbashi to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into this attack and to ensure that Nzuzi’s kidnappers are brought swiftly to justice,” Cooper said.