DRC suspends UN-backed broadcaster Radio Okapi

New York, December 3, 2012–Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo should lift the suspension imposed on Saturday on the United Nations-sponsored broadcaster Radio Okapi in the capital, Kinshasa, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Radio Okapi, the most popular local station in the country, went off the air on Saturday afternoon when its frequency was blocked, the station reported on its website. The station’s broadcasts have been blocked in Kinshasa, but can be heard in other parts of the country, local journalists said.

Jean Bosco Bahala, president of CSAC, the state-run national media regulatory agency, told Radio France Internationale on Sunday that Radio Okapi had been suspended for four days because of “administrative” noncompliance. The station was accused of failing to submit certain documents to the agency for review.

But local journalists told CPJ they believed the suspension was in connection with the station’s Thursday broadcast of an interview with Jean-Marie Runiga, leader of the M23 rebels controlling parts of eastern DRC. The M23 rebels are former Congolese army officers who mutinied from the ranks in April and seized key towns in the eastern North Kivu province. In the interview with Radio Okapi, Runiga had criticized President Joseph Kabila’s handling of peace talks with the rebels and called for the arrest of John Numbi, the national police chief, in connection with the murder of activist Floribert Chebeya.

Bahala, CSAC president, denied to RFI that Radio Okapi’s suspension was linked to the Runiga interview but acknowledged that CSAC had asked the station to censor its coverage of the rebels. “We have asked them not to grant interviews to M23 rebels who are considered terrorists. But that is not where the problem is,” Bahala told RFI.

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) issued a statement on Sunday saying Radio Okapi’s suspension had been imposed without formal notice. Roger Meece, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the DRC, said he found the timing of the suspension and the lack of notification “disturbing and regrettable.”

Radio Okapi is a joint project of the U.N. mission in the DRC and the Switzerland-based Hirondelle Foundation. It broadcasts in French and four national languages to an estimated audience of 22 million listeners across the DRC.

“We condemn Congolese authorities’ censorship of Radio Okapi, which was imposed after the station broadcast independent coverage of the conflict between the government and M23 rebels,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on authorities to immediately lift this suspension, which deprives millions of Congolese of a trusted source of information, and urge the United Nations to raise its voice further in support of Radio Okapi.”

CSAC had also issued a warning to Radio Okapi on Thursday in connection with a call-in program it aired on November 23 in which callers criticized authorities and the government’s handling of the conflict, state news agency Agence Congolaise de Presse reported. CSAC said the station had allowed callers to “disrespect authority and established institutions”; issue “accusations without proof, distorting facts”; and “incite to tribal hate and insurrection,” the agency reported.

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