In DRC, police disrupt media group meeting, assault journalists

New York, June 1, 2007—A journalist remained hospitalized today after police in the central diamond mining town of Mbuji-Mayi disrupted an official meeting of a prominent Congolese media group on Thursday, assaulting dozens of journalists and seizing personal items, according to the press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) and local journalists.

François Luboya, the host of a weekly civic education program on religious station Radio Mont Carmel (RMC), suffered broken ribs after six officers beat him with rifle butts, he told CPJ from the hospital. Several journalists, including Radio Okapi reporter Emmanuel Elamenji and RMC cameraman Fiston Lutumba, lost their mobile phones and recording equipment after being attacked, according to local sources. Luboya was assaulted when he sought to intervene, witnesses said.

The journalists were among 125 attending a meeting of the local chapter of the Congolese National Press Union (known by its French acronym as UNPC) when police stormed the gathering, according to JED and local journalists. UNPC, a professional association mandated to deliver press cards for Congolese journalists, is the oldest media group in the DRC. The meeting was to resolve an internal dispute with the UNPC’s provincial president in connection with his role in the recent suspension of local broadcaster Radiotélévision Debout Kasaï, according to the same sources.

UNPC treasurer Anne Marie Kasenga told CPJ that intelligence agents summoned her for questioning prior to the group’s meeting, but she refused because they had no written orders.

“We condemn this police attack, and we’re troubled that authorities in Eastern Kasaï are curtailing the work of journalists. These actions directly contradict the assertions of the DRC’s new government that press freedom is respected,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation into this attack and to allow journalists in Eastern Kasaï to work freely without fear of reprisal.”

In a meeting with local UNPC officials later Thursday, Eastern Kasaï Gov. Ngoyi Kasanji pledged to conduct an investigation into the incident, freelance journalist and Kasenga told CPJ.

Eastern Kasaï was the scene of large number of rights violations by security forces, according to a report released in April by the United Nations mission in DRC. Last month, CPJ named the DRC one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.