Democratic Republic of Congo bans RFI

New York, July 30, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities today in the Democratic Republic of Congo to lift a ban on the FM broadcasts of Radio France Internationale (RFI) across the Central African country. The government silenced the station in response to its coverage of the ongoing conflict in the east, RFI said.

Speaking at a press conference in the capital, Kinshasa, on Tuesday, Congolese Communications Minister Lambert Mendé Omalanga accused the station of “developing since several months a systematic campaign of demoralization of the armed forces of the DRC,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Authorities terminated their 2001 agreement with the French broadcaster on Friday, citing violations of its terms and Congo’s 1996 national press law, according to media reports. In a statement, RFI announced that its transmitters in Kinshasa, Matadi (southwest of Kinshasa), the northeast city of Kisangani, and the southern city of Lubumbashi were off the air.

RFI stated that Congolese authorities faulted the station for citing a July 22 AFP news item that reported on the desertion of ex-rebels who had joined the national army as part of a peace deal. The AFP report quoted the military spokesman of the United Nations Organization Mission in DRC, Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich, as saying that the deserters complained of nonpayment of salaries, ethnic conflicts, and sluggish bureaucracy within the Congolese army.

“The charge of undermining army morale by reporting the news is ridiculous,” said CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes. “This ban amounts to censorship and should be lifted immediately.”

It was the third time the authorities have banned RFI this year in connection with the station’s coverage. In June, CPJ called on President Joseph Kabila to reverse bans of RFI in the eastern cities of Bunia and Bukavu. Mende previously accused RFI of “throwing oil on the fire of all of the armed conflicts in the country’s east,” and RFI journalist Ghislaine Dupont of “attempting to destabilize the country.”