DRC politician taped threatening journalist

New York, August 25, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to investigate allegations of threats made earlier this month by a member of parliament against a journalist. The politician’s threats were caught on an audio recording of the phone call, which was widely posted on the Internet.

On August 3, Radio Télévision Satellitaire 1 (RTVS1) Editor-in-Chief Eugénie Ntumba called Yves Kisombe, a member of DRC’s National Assembly, asking for his comment on an open letter by opposition parties urging President Joseph Kabila to ensure transparent presidential elections this November. In the recording, Kisombe accused the journalist of not disclosing the purpose of her call before asking a question. “What is the name of this whore? What is the name of this bitch who has dared to disrespect me?” he shouted in the recording. He was then heard threatening to storm the Kinshasa-based station if he was not given the identity of the journalist that allegedly hung up on him, CPJ research found. Later, Kisombe stormed the studios of RTVS1–a private broadcaster belonging to Prime Minister Adolphe Kizito–demanded to see the journalist, and threatened to rape her, Ntumba told CPJ.

“We condemn the warrantless and obscene insults and threats that Congolese Member of Parliament Yves Kisombe directed at Eugénie Ntumba over a botched interview,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on Congolese authorities to take action against Kisombe in order to strengthen the rule of law in the country.”

“When I started to speak, [Kisombe] told me he could not hear me well,” Ntumba told CPJ, but she said she had clearly identified herself and the purpose of her call. She claimed the politician began shouting at her despite her apologies and then the call got dropped. She never called back, but Kisombe subsequently called the station to threaten her. She claimed she later received two anonymous phone calls on August 16 in which the callers threatened to kill her for having recorded Kisombe’s comments. She also reported that an anonymous person called her father to pressure him to “convince” her to go on television and say the recording was a montage and that she worked for the opposition.

Ntumba said she has filed a complaint against Kisombe for death threats and insults. In an interview with U.N.-sponsored broadcaster Radio Okapi on Wednesday, Kisombe described the audio recording as a “grotesque montage.”

Speaking to CPJ today, Congolese Communication Minister Lambert Mende said the government had “taken note” of the accusations of the journalists and the denials of Kisombe. “It is difficult to accept that there are such insults this way without consequences,” he said, adding that the case should be referred to the newly established  state-run media regulatory agency, the High Council for Audiovisual Media and Communication. On Tuesday, three Congolese press groups–Journaliste en Danger, the Congolese National Press Union, and the Observatory of Congolese Media–called for a media blackout on Kisombe’s activities for six months, news reports said. The groups have also planned a march on Friday to protest a series of recent attacks on journalists in the line of duty by members of the ruling party and security forces.