Kinshasa, October 13, 2023—Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo should immediately withdraw a criminal defamation complaint and arrest warrant for reporter Anicet Moleka, lift the illegal ban on his radio station, and desist from harassing the media for critical reporting ahead of December’s elections, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On October 6, the mayor of the northwestern Congolese city of Lisala, Desi Koyo, issued an order, reviewed by CPJ, indefinitely suspending broadcasts by Radio Top Lisala.
The order said that the station had defied the mayor’s August reporting ban on Moleka for using “insolent, immoral and defamatory” language on the current affairs program Tic Tac which undermined the dignity of Mongala Province authorities. It called on the police and government’s intelligence agency to enforce the ban on Moleka.
Under Congolese law, provincial authorities do not have the legal authority to ban journalists from reporting or to shut down media outlets. According to the DRC’s press law, introduced in March, it is the responsibility of the regulatory Superior Council of Audiovisual and Communication to issue such sanctions against media outlets and journalists for professional misconduct.
Mayor Koyo told CPJ that he laid a complaint of criminal defamation—for which the penalty is up to five years in jail—against the journalist with Lisala prosecutor’s office on September 30 and it issued the arrest warrant the same day. Koyo accused Moleka and Radio Top Lisala of making slanderous remarks against provincial authorities in their weekly broadcasts. He described the ban as a “precautionary measure that we have taken to maintain peace in the province” ahead of the presidential and parliamentary polls on December 20.
Moleka denied insulting local authorities and told CPJ that he had denounced the arbitrary arrest of local people and slow implementation in the province of President Felix Tshisikedi’s flagship national program to combat poverty and inequality. The station’s general director Ernest Ngasa also refuted the allegation of defamation and told CPJ that he would never allow authorities to be insulted on Radio Top Lisala.
CPJ was unable to independently review Moleka’s broadcasts as they were not archived.
“Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Mongala Province should withdraw the arrest warrant and criminal defamation charges against reporter Anicet Mokela, allow Radio Top Lisala to broadcast freely, and ensure it is not subject to further censorship,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator in New York.
“Politicians and government officials should desist from arbitrary bans and harassment of media outlets simply because they want to burnish their records ahead of December’s election. Journalists have a critical role to play in a democracy by holding public officials to account.”
Mayor Koyo told CPJ that he issued an order on August 4 banning Moleka from reporting and sent it to the director of Radio Top Lisala, but the journalist defied the ban by appearing on Radio Top Lisala on September 30.
Ngasa said that provincial interior minister Nestor Magbado called him on October 1 and threatened to close Radio Top Lisala if he continued to allow Moleka to report. Magbado confirmed to CPJ that he made the call and local authorities shut down the station for defying the mayor’s August ban on Moleka.
Separately, Jonas Mboli, program director of privately owned Radio Liberté Lisala told CPJ that Mayor Koyo visited the station on September 27 and threatened to ban it for allowing members of the public to make derogatory comments about provincial authorities during a live phone-in show earlier that day.
Mboli said he received a text, reviewed by CPJ, from the mayor the following day announcing the closure of the radio station in the coming days. Koyo confirmed to CPJ that he sent the text in response to the station’s “stupidity.”
CPJ reviewed the live broadcast in which listeners called in to criticize the provincial governor for the lack of development in Mongala Province.
Radio Liberté Lisala was still broadcasting at the time of publication, according to Mboli and the station’s director Erick Ngunde.
Radio Liberté Lisala was shut down ahead of Congo’s 2018 elections on the orders of the mayor of Lisala at that time. The station is owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was an opposition politician in 2018 but has since joined the ruling coalition.