CPJ mourns death of Congolese reporter

New York, November 24, 2008–Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo should thoroughly and transparently investigate the killing of a radio reporter on Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Didace Namujimbo, 34, a reporter for the United Nations-sponsored broadcasting network Radio Okapi, in the volatile eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was shot by unknown gunmen at close range on Friday evening. Namujimbo was the second Radio Okapi journalist assassinated in the border town of Bukavu in the last 16 months.

With the exception of a mobile phone, personal valuables–including US$50 in his wallet–were not taken, according to his brother Déo Namujimbo, who is the local vice-president of the Congolese National Press Union. Neighbors allegedly heard a heated exchange between the journalist and the alleged gunmen shortly before the shooting, according to news reports. CPJ is investigating to determine whether he was killed because of his journalism.

No arrests have been made, but Radio Okapi quoted Bukavu public prosecutor Jacques Melimeli as saying that a forensic investigation was under way. The journalist was hit with a single bullet in the neck, he said.

“We condemn the heinous murder of another colleague at Radio Okapi, Didace Namujimbo, and send our condolences to his family and colleagues,” said Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Impunity for violence against the media is more often the norm than the exception in Congo. We call on Congolese authorities in Bukavu to pursue all possible leads and conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into this killing.”

Namujimbo was a Radio Okapi reporter since February 2006, according to Florien Barbey, bureau chief of the Bukavu station. Although Namujimbo had not reported any threats during his employment there, Barbey said that Okapi would now ask staffers to begin “systematically” reporting any dangers. U.N. vehicles escort Radio Okapi journalists to and from work.

Namujimbo was the second Radio Okapi journalist recently murdered under murky circumstances. In June 2007, Serge Maheshe was killed in Bukavu. In May, a Bukavu military tribunal sentenced three civilians to death for that murder, but local and international legal experts denounced irregularities in the proceedings. It was not confirmed that Maheshe was killed because of his work. 

Namujimbo is the fifth Congolese journalist murdered since 2005, according to CPJ research. Three others, Patrick Kikuku Wilungula, Franck Ngyke Kangundu, and Bapuwa Mwamba have been murdered in unclear circumstances, according to CPJ research. There have been no arrests in Wilungula’s murder and investigations into the deaths of Kanugundu and Mwamba did not establish a clear motive for the crimes.

South Kivu borders on war-torn North Kivu, the scene of renewed fighting between the government and its allies and Tutsi rebels.