A Mbandaka court declared the closure of privately owned Radio Télévision Sarah illegal on June 6, 2023. Since June 7, armed police officers have blocked journalists from accessing the broadcaster’s office. (Photo Credit: Steve Mwanyo)

Governor of DRC’s Equateur province defies court order allowing Radio Télévision Sarah to reopen

Kinshasa, June 13, 2023—Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo must comply with the court decision authorizing Radio Télévision Sarah to reopen and ensure the broadcaster’s equipment is returned, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On June 6, a local court of appeal in Mbandaka, the capital of the northwestern Equateur province, declared the closure of privately owned Radio Télévision Sarah illegal and ordered the outlet be permitted to reopen, according to a copy of the court order reviewed by CPJ and the outlet’s lawyer, Pontife Ikolombe, and its managing director, Steve Mwanyo, who both spoke to CPJ by phone. 

The outlet has been closed since November 15, 2021. The court order followed a May 30, 2023, lawsuit filed by the broadcaster against the Equateur government, Ikolombe said. 

On June 7, Equateur Governor Bobo Boloko Bolumbu sent the provincial Minister of Justice Imbambo Nzobali and armed police officers to block access to the broadcaster’s office, Ikolombe and Mwanyo said. As of Tuesday, June 13, the officers remained outside the office and denied the journalists entry. 

“Congolese authorities must ensure that the court ruling permitting Radio Télévision Sarah to reopen is respected,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “The nearly two years that Radio Télévision Sarah was kept off the air is an injustice and must not be prolonged.”

A few hours before police arrived at the outlet’s office on June 7, the outlets’ journalists accessed the office and found that broadcasting equipment, including a transmitter, microphones, and cameras, were missing, Mwanyo told CPJ. He said he believed provincial government authorities had taken the equipment as they were the only ones with access to the office since the closure.

In November 2021, Papy Ekate, the Equateur province minister of communication and media, accused the outlet of airing inflammatory programs and criticism of Bobo, and ordered the outlet closed for 60 days, according to Mwanyo and a report by local press freedom organization Journaliste en Danger. On January 15, 2022, the Equateur government extended the suspension indefinitely, Mwanyo said.

During a rally held in Mbandaka on December 21, 2022, President Felix Tshisekedi publicly asked Bobo to accept criticism, according to a report by privately owned website yabisonews.cd.

CPJ’s calls and requests for comment sent via messaging app to Nzobali, Bobo, and Rossy Bolekwa, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, did not receive any replies.