June 19, 2009
We are alarmed by the government’s decision to indefinitely ban FM broadcasts of Radio France Internationale (RFI) in the eastern cities of Bunia and Bukavu. We call on you to use your influence to reverse these rulings, which we believe deprive residents of eastern Congo of access to diverse sources of information about the conflict in their region.
On June 10, Communications Minister Lambert Mende announced the government’s suspension of RFI in Bukavu, the capital of eastern South Kivu province, due to “reasons of national security,” according to Agence France-Presse. “We hold RFI responsible for inciting soldiers to disobey orders, to revolt, to cause trouble in the barracks, at a time when our country is at war,” the agency quoted Mende as saying.
Mende did not cite any specific evidence supporting the broad accusations, which have been denied by RFI.
Journalists based in Bukavu told CPJ this week that RFI has been off the air in the city since late May. The station had been airing reports critical of the government’s management of the army and its handling of the security situation in eastern Congo, they said.
Earlier, on May 4, Mende announced that RFI broadcasts were banned in the city of Bunia in Eastern Province, according to news reports. Mende accused RFI of “throwing oil on the fire of all of the armed conflicts in the country’s east,” inciting soldiers to mutiny, and spreading “theses” calling for the redrawing of DRC’s borders, according to news reports. The government would strip RFI of its frequencies “one by one until we are heard,” he said.
Mende also criticized RFI journalist Ghislaine Dupont’s coverage, accusing her of “attempting to destabilize the country.” The then-transitional, power-sharing government expelled Dupont without explanation in July 2006, according to CPJ research. In an e-mail to CPJ, Dupont disputed the accusations, saying the ruling was retaliation for critical political coverage, including reports of corruption within the ruling party and mismanagement of the army.
In Bunia and Bukavu, bans were imposed without the disclosure of any specific grounds. Thus, the decisions appear to be arbitrary and based on unsubstantiated accusations. We believe that residents of eastern Congo have a fundamental right to diverse sources of essential information about the unfolding conflict in their region. We ask you use your influence to reverse these rulings.