DRC government bans screening of documentary on rape

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo said on September 3, 2015, that it had banned the screening of a documentary about rape and a doctor who treats rape victims.

The film, “The man who mends women,” was created by Belgian filmmaker Thierry Michel and tells the story of Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist in the Congo who has worked since 1999 to treat more than 40,000 rape victims at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. The film sheds light on the prevalence of sexual violence throughout the DRC and identifies the Congolese army as one of the chief perpetrators of systemic rape in the country.

Mukwege won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2014 and was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize.

The film has been screened in other countries, but the Congolese government has banned it from being screened in the country. Communications Minister Lambert Mende defended the decision to ban the film, saying it was a result of what he called unsubstantiated attacks on the Congolese army, according to reports.

“There is a clear intent to harm and sully the image of our army and no country in the world could tolerate it. That is why we have banned the showing of the film here,” Mende said, according to news reports.

The DRC has been riddled by armed conflicts for most of the past 20 years, and though the second Congo war officially ended in 2003, violence has continued between rebel groups and militias, peacekeepers, and the Congolese Army. According to the International Rescue Committee, more than 5.4 million people have died since 1998 as a result of conflict, hunger, and preventable disease. Thousands of women have been raped in the country since the fighting began, UN data show. A 2009 study of sexual violence in the country found the national army to be among the chief perpetrators of rape.

In a statement on September 3, 2015, Mukwege condemned the government’s ban of the film, saying it “demonstrates the willingness of the government to deny the Congolese people the right of access to information … in order to better manipulate and control.”

The banning of the film is the latest example of the Congolese government’s attempts to crack down on freedom of expression. In 2015, authorities blocked Internet access and journalists were beaten and imprisoned, according to CPJ research.