New York, March 24, 2016–Three international journalists who were covering the elections in the Republic of Congo were punched and had their passports and equipment seized Wednesday by a group of four men who identified themselves as police, according to reports.
The French paper Le Monde reported that its correspondent Christophe Châtelot and two journalists from Agence France-Presse, who have not been named, were attacked as they left a news conference in the capital, Brazzaville, held by General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, an opposition candidate who announced he would challenge the election results, reports said. Earlier that day, initial election results showed the incumbent President Denis Sassou Nguesso had won the elections, extending his 32-year-rule.
“Not content with merely making it difficult for journalists to file by shutting down communications, the authorities have now resorted to violence to deter independent reporting,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “We call on the police to return all seized journalistic materials and hold the government responsible for ensuring that journalists can work safely and freely.”
Châtelot and the AFP journalists filed a police report after the attack and submitted a formal complaint about the incident to the police today, according to news reports. The passports and cameras were later returned, but memory cards containing images of the news conference were not immediately returned, according to reports.
Attempts by CPJ to seek comment via telephone from the Congolese Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the country’s High Council of Freedom of Communication in Brazzaville, went unanswered.
The day before the March 20 election, the Interior Minister ordered telecommunications companies to cut all mobile phone, text message, and Internet service for at least 48 hours to prevent “illegal” reporting of election results, according to news reports. The blackout remained in effect until today, when it was partially lifted.