Kinshasa, October 5, 2022—Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Sankuru province should reverse their decision to shut down radio stations in Lomela city and ensure media there can work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On September 17, Jules Lodi Emongo, governor of Sankuru province, ordered privately owned radio stations based in the province’s Lomela city—Radio Ekitela, Radio Numbampela, and Radio Liberté Sankuru—to stop broadcasting until further notice, according to a press release from the Sankuru provincial government, a report by local press freedom organization L’Observatoire de la Liberté de la Presse en Afrique (OLPA), Radio Ekitela director Franck Danga, and Radio Numbampela reporter Philémon Lokongo.
The decision only affected Radio Ekitela and Radio Numbampela because Radio Liberté Sankuru had not broadcast for several years due to technical issues, according to Danga and Lokongo, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
Danga and Lokongo said their stations stopped broadcasting because they worried about repercussions for defying the order, which they heard about from the province’s state media.
“Congolese authorities should ensure that radio stations in Lomela, in Sankuru province, are permitted to work without fear of running afoul of government directives,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, from New York. “The vague reasoning offered by Sankuru provincial authorities for the blanket order for the stations to stop broadcasting smacks of sweeping censorship.”
In the September 20 press release, Sankuru government spokesman Pierre Shosola ordered that “all radio stations, without distinction, be prohibited, in a conservative manner, to broadcast throughout the territory of Lomela until further notice,” adding that “media (particularly the radio) in part of the province were accused of being at the root of the upsurgence of community and ethnic tensions. The latter stand out as real channels for transmitting violent messages with tribal connotations.”
Danga and Lokongo denied these allegations, saying separately that the government’s motivation was to silence the media in Lomela. “Our two radios did not broadcast any information or news inciting the population of Lomela to tribal hatred. Let the provincial governor tell us precisely that it is such (a) program that our two radios broadcast,” Danga told CPJ. “We agreed to close our radios so as not to have problems with the provincial governor although so far we have not received any written decision from his government,” Lokongo said. The political climate in the Sankuru province is tense.
Contacted by phone, Patrick Bekanga, the vice-governor of Sankuru, declined to comment, saying he was not in the province and the governor better understood the situation.
Lodi told CPJ by phone that he had ordered Lomela radio stations to stop broadcasting for security reasons. “It is a precautionary decision that we have taken and it will be lifted one day. We are not obligated to release provincial security records to the media. Many Lomela journalists are not trained, they do not respect the ethics of their profession, and many operate illegally—that is to say without any documents,” Lodi said.