In DRC, photojournalist assassinated

New York, August 10, 2007— A respected freelance photojournalist in eastern DRC was gunned down on Thursday evening as he returned home from covering a local conference on environmental protection, local journalists told CPJ.

CPJ is investigating whether Patrick Kikuku Wilungula—the second journalist killed in Congo’s volatile east this year after Serge Maheshe—was murdered for his work

“We condemn the brutal killing of Patrick Kikuku Wilungula, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and colleagues,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We call on the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into this murder and urge them to pursue all possible leads to find Wilungula’s killer.”

Hundreds of people lined the streets today of the North Kivu border town of Goma to salute Wilungula, who was killed by a single bullet fired into his left eye after a confrontation with unidentified gunmen, according to local journalists. The killers fired into the air as they fled the scene with the journalist’s digital camera—leaving behind other valuables, including 13,000 Congolese francs (US$30) in cash and a mobile phone.

Local press freedom groups Journaliste en Danger, the Congolese Press Union, and Goma’s association of photographers said they were investigating possible motives of the killing, but were puzzled that the killers only seized a common camera, they told CPJ.

Wilungula had distinguished himself from other, mostly commercial, photographers in Goma, with his focus on photojournalism, contributing to several local publications, said César Balume, the president of Goma’s association of photographers. He had been the official photographer of former North Kivu Gov. Eugene Serufuli.

Wilingula, 39, and a father of eight children, was the fourth journalist killed in the DRC since 2005, after Franck Ngyke Kangundu, Bapuwa Mwamba, and Serge Maheshe, according to CPJ research. While authorities apprehended suspects in each case, investigations and subsequent trials never determined any link between the murders and the journalists’ work.

In the aftermath of historic presidential and general elections this year, CPJ has documented an unprecedented nationwide spate of attacks and harassment of the media by DRC government security forces and officials as authorities struggled to deal with rampant crime.

CPJ named the DRC this year one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.