A group of Congolese journalists evacuated to Goma by MONUSCO. (Photo: Darlène Rushago)

Congolese journalists face death threats as M23 rebels advance, flee for safety

Kinshasa, November 3, 2022 – As nearly two dozen Congolese journalists fled the eastern cities of Kiwanja and Rutshuru late last week out of fear for their lives, the Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday urged all parties in the conflict there to ensure the safety and freedom of the press.

On Saturday, October 29, at least 23 journalists from Kiwanja and Rutshuru took refuge at the Kiwanja headquarters of the U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as MONUSCO, following the takeover of the cities by the M23 rebel group and threats by M23 to kill local journalists, according to media reports and a post on Twitter by MONSUCO. 

Two members of MONUSCO working in Kuwanja, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the U.N. has since evacuated the 23 journalists to Goma, the nearby capital city of North Kivu province, via flights on October 31, November 2, and November 3. 

Darlène Rushago, director of the privately owned Radio Umudiho FM broadcaster, and Vianney Watsongo, a journalist with the privately owned Radio-Television Evangélique et de Développement Hermon (RTDEH) broadcaster, who both spoke to CPJ via messaging app after the evacuation to Goma, said they received threatening calls from members of the M23 group during its advance.

They said M23 members threatened to kill them and other journalists that had reported information they viewed as favorable to the DRC military, and that other journalists in the area had received similar calls and had fled to towns outside Kiwanja and Rutshuru.

“Warring parties in the eastern DRC should ensure the safety of journalists working to report the news,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa program coordinator, in Johannesburg. “When journalists are denied the ability to cover conflicts, those most affected have a harder time making informed decisions that may be the difference between life and death.”

Also on October 29, private citizens forced their way into the Radio Umudiho FM office in Rutshuru, and stole equipment and materials, Rushago told CPJ. Rushago said that when the M23 rebels entered the city she ordered the suspension of all broadcasts and the relocation of the transmitter and other Radio Umudiho FM equipment before people attacked their office.

Following the M23 takeover of Kiwanja and Rutshuru, some radio stations broadcasting in the cities halted standard broadcasts and transmitted only music for fear that other content would prompt reprisal, according to local media reports.

Conflict between the M23 and DRC government forces has escalated in recent days, as Congolese authorities continue to accuse Rwanda of supporting the rebel group, accusations Rwanda has denied.

CPJ called the general number for the MONUSCO base in Kiwanja. The person who responded declined to comment or give their name and said CPJ should speak to the affected journalists. 

CPJ’s calls to DRC military spokesman General Sylvain Ekenge rang unanswered.

CPJ’s calls to M23 president Mertrand Bisimwa rang unanswered. Previously, an M23 spokesperson told CPJ that all journalists’ “safety are one hundred percent guaranteed” in an area controlled by M23.