DRC’s Kabila government bans broadcaster favorable to rival

New York, July 13, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ban of a private broadcaster favorable to opposition presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi. The blocking and ban of the broadcaster since Saturday is in violation of the country’s press laws. 

Radio Lisanga Télévision (RLTV), based in the capital, Kinshasa, lost its signal without formal notice, the station’s director-general, Basile Olongo Pongo, told CPJ. The same day, Congolese Communication Minister Lambert Mende issued a decree indefinitely banning the station across the country over “programs that are promoting violence and contribute to disturb public order,” according to news reports.

In an interview with CPJ today, Mende said that the station had “called on youth to take to the streets and explained how to make Molotov cocktails.” According to local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED), which monitored RLTV’s programs, the government’s accusations are baseless. RLTV has drawn the ire of the government with a nightly talk show called “Support Etienne Tshisekedi,” where presenters and guests are critical of incumbent President Joseph Kabila, who is seeking a second five-year term in November presidential elections, according to JED and local journalists.  

A presenter for the program, Baby Balukuna, was injured in a June 19 attack by unidentified men armed with machetes as he exited the station’s studios, U.N.-sponsored station Radio Okapi reported.

“The summary banning of RLTV is nothing but political censorship,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “The authorities took the station off the air without following due process and should lift the ban immediately.”

The government suppressed RLTV’s signal a day after the station extensively covered a July 9 march by militant members of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress party who were carrying the body of one of their members, Serge Lukusa, according to local journalists. The militants said Lukusa had died after inhaling tear gas during the violent dispersal by security forces of an earlier sit-in, but Mende told the press Lukusa died a “natural death,” according to news reports.