Lome, Togo, June 17, 2021 — Congolese authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate threats made to journalist Parfait Katoto and ensure his safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
At about 9:50 p.m. on May 29, an armed man entered Katoto’s home in the eastern town of Biakato, in Ituri province, through an open door, forced him to lie on the ground and empty his pockets, and threatened to kill him, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app and phone, and a statement by the Observatory of Press Freedom in Africa, a regional press freedom group.
Katoto, director of the community broadcaster Radio Communautaire Amkeni Biakato (RCAB), said that the man wore an army-style uniform, threatened to “end [his] life on earth,” and accused him of denigrating the army in his station’s reporting on allegations that military personnel had looted properties in Ituri province.
Just as the man threatened to kill Katoto, a second uniformed and armed man came into the room, asked the first assailant to confirm Katoto’s identity, and then said to leave him and “take care of it tomorrow.” The men then robbed Katoto of about 10,000 Congolese francs (US$5) and left the scene, he said.
“Congolese authorities must thoroughly investigate the break-in at journalist Parfait Katoto’s home, and ensure that he can work freely and safely,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said, in New York. “Authorities must ensure that no matter who was behind this attack—even if they were members of the armed forces—that they are held to account.”
Katoto told CPJ that he went into hiding following the attack out of fear for his safety. He also said that his mother witnessed the attack, and that one of the men threatened to kill her if she did not stay calm.
Christine Abeditho, president of the Ituri chapter of the National Union of the Congolese Press (UNPC), a local press freedom group, told CPJ via messaging app and phone interview that she met with Ituri Governor Jonny Luboya Nkashama and asked authorities to ensure Katoto’s safety. She said that Nkashama instructed an army spokesperson, Jules Ngongo, to investigate the attack.
In recent weeks, RCAB has frequently broadcast reports of alleged looting in Ituri province by men in military uniforms, Katoto said. CPJ reviewed audio recordings of two May 27 reports in which a neighborhood leader said that uniformed men were beating people and stealing their possessions, including chickens and phones.
In March, Congolese security forces repeatedly threatened and harassed employees of RCAB and Radio Télé Communautaire Babombi, another Ituri-based broadcaster, as CPJ documented at the time.
In May, in response to years of insecurity in the region, President Félix Tshisekedi declared Ituri to be under the control of the national military for at least 30 days and governed by Nkashama, who is a lieutenant-general in the army, according to media reports.
CPJ called and reached out to Nkashama and Ngongo via messaging app for comment, but did not receive any replies.