CPJ condemns murder of freelance journalist

New York, July 10, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the murder of Bapuwa Mwamba, a Congolese journalist who worked for several local publications in the capital, Kinshasa. Mwamba was shot by unidentified gunmen who burst into his home July 8. CPJ is investigating whether the murder was linked to Mwamba’s journalistic work.

“The killers of Bapuwa Mwamba must not go unpunished,” said Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ. “It is essential that the government shows its commitment to press freedom and the safety of journalists by conducting a rigorous and rapid investigation into this murder, the second killing of a journalist in his own home in just eight months.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo holds presidential and parliamentary elections July 30 to replace a three-year-old transitional government, installed as part of a peace deal to end years of civil war. The elections are the first since independence in 1960.

The Kinshasa-based press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) said the attack on Mwamba “did not look like a random act.” The secretary-general of the Congolese National Press Union, Kasonga Tshilunde, told CPJ that he had ruled out an attempted robbery. Local sources said the attackers took only Mwamba’s cell phone.

The day before his death, Mwamba published a commentary in the Kinshasa daily Le Phare, criticizing Congolese authorities and the international community for what he deemed to be the failure of DRC’s political transition.

“An increase in militia activities has added to the growing insecurity that reigns in the East,” wrote Mwamba. “Frequent attacks on human rights, caused most often by the military, are now part of the Congolese landscape… The State does not function.” The transitional government has exercised little control in the east of the country where armed groups operate, despite the presence of the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping force.

In March, men wearing military uniforms raided Mwamba’s house, stealing a cell phone and $850 in cash, JED reported. According to Tshilunde, the men threatened to kill Mwamba. However, he said, the motive behind the attack was unclear. Mwamba filed a police complaint, but there was no follow-up, Tshilunde told CPJ.

Information Minister Henri Mova Sakanyi condemned the killing in an interview with the UN-backed Radio Okapi, announcing that he would meet with President Joseph Kabila and other high-ranking government officials “to speed the investigation.”

“Mwamba’s death is yet another reminder of the grave dangers facing journalists working in the DRC,” Simon added. “Journalists have long faced punitive prison terms under the country’s repressive media laws, as well as violence and threats from security forces, militias, and insurgent groups. However, CPJ has documented an increase in attacks on the press in the lead-up to July’s elections.”

Mwamba is the second journalist killed in the past year. Franck Ngycke Kangundu, a veteran political affairs journalist, was gunned down by unidentified men on November 3, 2005, along with his wife, Hélène Mpaka. Three soldiers arrested several weeks later and charged with the double murder, will go on trial on July 12, JED reported. It is unclear whether a fourth suspect, a civilian who was arrested at the same time as the other suspects, has been formally charged in the case, a JED researcher told CPJ.