Police in Congo arrest suspects in journalist’s murder

New York, June 14, 2007— Police arrested two suspects today in the killing of a broadcaster for United Nations-sponsored Radio Okapi in the eastern border town of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the station’s journalists told CPJ.

CPJ is investigating to determine whether Serge Maheshe was killed because of his work as a journalist.

Maheshe was gunned down on Wednesday evening as he was preparing to board a U.N vehicle with two friends, according to news reports. The gunmen ordered the men to sit on the ground and shot the journalist several times in the chest and legs while his friends fled the scene uninjured.

“We condemn the brutal killing of Serge Maheshe, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and colleagues,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We call on authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into this murder and urge them to pursue all possible leads for the motive of this crime.”

Radio Okapi reporters at the Bukavu station, 945 miles (1,518 km) east of the capital Kinshasa, are frequently threatened for their coverage of clashes between rebel groups, local militia and government security forces in the region, said Leonard Mulamba, deputy editor-in-chief of the network.

In 2004, Maheshe was one of four journalists who received threats after rebel forces led by Laurent Nkunda invaded Bukavu.

Maheshe, 31, married and the father of two, had worked at the station since 2003 and was widely respected. Radio Okapi is a nationwide network of stations set up by the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo and the Switzerland-based Hirondelle Foundation.

William L. Swing, the U.N.’s special representative in DRC, condemned the murder in the strongest terms and expressed his outrage at the crime.

Maheshe is the third journalist to be killed in the DRC since 2005. The others were veteran political affairs journalist Franck Ngyke Kangundu, who was slain along with his wife, and freelance journalist Bapuwa Mwamba.

A Kinshasa military tribunal convicted four ex-soldiers and a civilian in April in the killing of Kangundu, but did not establish a link between the crime and the journalist’s work, according to the local press. Two of the defendants were sentenced to death. Four people are currently being tried for the murder of Mwamba.

Last month, CPJ named the DRC one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.