New York, December 21, 2010—Authorities should immediately release Congolese radio journalist Robert Shemahamba, who has been held in the eastern city of Uvira since Friday in connection with a political program critical of local officials, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Shemahamba, director of the community station Radio Télé Mitumba, was taken into custody by the Congolese National Intelligence Agency (known by its French acronym ANR) after refusing to submit to questioning without a lawyer, the station’s program director told CPJ. Shemahamba has not been charged with a crime.
The case stems from a December 12 current affairs program in which three opposition politicians criticized Uvira municipal officials for alleged mismanagement, according to local journalists. Shemahamba moderated the program. Uvira Mayor Joseph Mbarato and Treasurer Victor Mukubito Chomachoma denied wrongdoing, and their administration ordered Radio Télé Mitumba to take the weekly program off the air, according to local sources.
Dominique Kalonzo, a local journalist who participated in the program, went into hiding after police summoned him for questioning concerning the show, he told CPJ from an undisclosed location.
“It is outrageous that a journalist should be arrested in a democracy for moderating a discussion with opposition politicians,” CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said. “Robert Shemahamba should be released immediately and the ban on his radio program lifted.”
Prior to his arrest, Shemahamba had already been questioned for several hours by a local prosecutor and members of a municipal security council, according to local journalists. In an interview with CPJ today, Uvira Mayor Mbarato accused Shemahamba of allowing guests on the program to “insult the head of state,” referring to commentary critical of President Joseph Kabila.
Lambert Mendé Omalanga, Congolese communications minister and government spokesman, told CPJ that he has protested the arrest and called on the country’s interior minister to resolve the matter. “We don’t have a political police in this country,” he added.