Supporters of President Felix Tshisekedi take photographs of him outside a polling station in Kinshasa on December 20, 2023. Millions of Congolese head to the polls on December 20, 2023. (Photo: Arsene Mpiana / AFP)

DRC journalists Pascal Mulegwa and Réné Mobembo attacked during election coverage, broadcaster ordered off air

Kinshasa, December 22, 2023 – Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo must allow the press to report freely on the country’s elections, swiftly investigate and hold accountable those responsible for attacking journalists Pascal Mulegwa and Réné Mobembo, and allow Perfect Télévision to continue broadcasting, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Friday.

“Journalists play an essential role in the democratic process, which means their safety is paramount as they report on ongoing electoral processes in the DRC,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ sub-Saharan Africa Representative, in Nairobi. “Accountability for the attacks on Pascal Mulegwa and Réné Mobembo, as well as other journalists in recent weeks, must be a priority, and authorities must ensure broadcasters are not censored for their election coverage.”

As the DRC held nationwide elections Wednesday, December 20, supporters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) political party—which is led by current president Felix Tshisekedi—punched, dragged, and threw Mulegwa into a gutter, according to media reports and Mulegwa, who spoke to CPJ. Mulegwa, a correspondent for the French broadcaster Radio France International, was on assignment covering voting in Kinshasa, the capital.

Mulegwa said his attackers, some of whom were armed with knives, angrily accused him of working for a French outlet that was critical of Tshisekedi. He said the attackers broke his prescription glasses as they dragged him. Mulegwa said he contacted DRC Minister of Communications and Media Minister Patrick Muyaya after the attack. Muyaya then sent a vehicle that took the journalist to a hospital for treatment of a sprained right ankle and discomfort in his jaw.

CPJ’s calls to UDPS secretary general Augustin Kabuya and Muyaya received no response.

Four days before the election, on December 16, Reagean Mata Likenge, the president of the youth league of the Let’s Act for the Republic (AREP) political party in Mankanza, a town in Equateur province, ordered supporters of the party to attack Mobembo, editor-in-chief of the privately owned Radio Liberté Mankanza broadcaster, according to Mobembo and a local civil society actor who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, who both spoke with CPJ. The attack took place as Mobembo worked to cover the campaign of Guylain Bikoko, a legislative election candidate for the AREP political party.

Mobembo told CPJ that about seven AREP supporters punched him in the face and confiscated his cellphone, which he was using to report on a campaign meeting. Injured on the lips, Mobembo said he then sought treatment at a local hospital. Mobembo said Mata had previously tried to forbid him from covering the AREP’s campaign.

CPJ called Mata, but his phone was turned off. Contacted by telephone, the provincial governor of Equateur, Dieudonné Boloko Bolumbu, told CPJ that he had not been informed of the attack, before the line disconnected.

Also on December 20, the Congolese media regulator, the Higher Council of Audiovisual and Communication (CSAC), called and ordered a technician from the privately-owned television company Bleusat to cut the programming signal of Perfect Télévision in Kinshasa, according to media reports and Perfect Télévision’s general director, Peter Tiani, who spoke with CPJ. Tiani told CPJ that the order stemmed from Perfect Télévision’s reports on polling stations not opening on time and missing electoral kits at several voting centers in Kinshasa and across the country. As of December 22, Perfect Télévision remains off air.

Oscar Kabamba, the CSAC’s general rapporteur, told CPJ that he was outside the country and was not informed that Perfect Télévision’s signal had been cut. CSAC president Christian Bosembe did not respond to CPJ’s calls or messages.

According to the media reports, the Congolese presidential, legislative and provincial elections on December 20 were marked by numerous delays and logistical problems, and the national electoral commission extended voting until December 21.

CPJ previously documented attacks or threats against at least four journalists during the formal, pre-election campaign period, and the closure of at least one broadcast station.