Armed men attack journalist in Brazzaville, Congo

Abuja, Nigeria, September 12, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in the Congo to apprehend the perpetrators of an attack on Wednesday against a journalist in his home in Brazzaville. Elie Smith was threatened and held at gunpoint by unidentified men who he said also attacked his sister, according to news reports.

Armed men in plainclothes stormed Smith’s home early Wednesday, according to news reports. Smith, a Cameroonian citizen, is a journalist for pro-government broadcaster MNTV. In an interview with the Paris-based news magazine Jeune Afrique, Smith said the assailants told him they had come to kill him and dispose of his body, and then attacked his sister. Then they seized his personal belongings and journalistic equipment and fled, he said.

Smith added that police had visited his home to document the attack.

Smith said that sources whom he declined to identify had told him that the attack was likely in retaliation for a photo he posted on Facebook that he took while covering a meeting on Monday in which several supporters of the opposition party were attacked. The photo showed an opposition supporter covered in blood.

MNTV is one of the few television stations that covers the opposition, according to reports. Local journalists told CPJ on condition of anonymity that Smith’s coverage of the opposition had created the perception that he was sympathetic to the opposition, despite the fact that MNTV is a pro-government broadcaster. MNTV is owned by President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s brother.

Smith said he received threats and that one top police officer had threatened to kill him. Smith said he would file an official complaint.

CPJ could not immediately reach the police authorities in Brazzaville. Aides of Communications Minister Bienvenu Okiémy declined to comment to CPJ.

Political tension has escalated in recent months in Congo in connection with alleged plans by Nguesso to revise the country’s constitution to allow him to run for office in 2016, according to reports. Nguesso has ruled his country from 1979 to 1992 and currently since 1997.

“This gruesome attack on Elie Smith and his family at a time of political tension sends a disturbing message to the journalism community,” said Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa Representative. “Authorities must launch a timely and thorough investigation into the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice.”