KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday banned a documentary film about a doctor who treats war rape victims, leading the film makers to say the government was trying to silence debate about sexual violence.
Media Minister Lambert Mende gave no reason for the decision to ban "The Man who Mends Women (L'Homme Qui Repare Les Femmes)", which is about Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, the founder of Panzi Hospital in the eastern city of Bukavu.
Sexual violence by militias and the army is a defining atrocity of a conflict in eastern Congo that has lasted two decades, and the hospital has treated thousands of rape victims. Several high-level perpetrators have recently been convicted.
Human rights groups have accused the army of using rape as a weapon, but military leaders objected to the film as slanderous, said Thierry Michel, the film's Belgian co-producer.
"The banning of the scheduled screening of this film is a way of gagging (Mukwege) ... and (the voice) of the victims of these wars and tragedies that the country has lived through for 20 years," Michel said in the statement.
The film, co-financed by Belgium's foreign affairs ministry and the International Organization of La Francophonie, was scheduled to be screened in the capital, Kinshasa, next week and Bukavu the following week.
Millions died in a war in eastern Congo between 1998 and 2003, mostly from hunger and disease. Since then, the region has been plagued by instability as dozens of armed groups compete for its vast natural resources.
Mukwege won the Sakharov Prize, Europe's top human rights award, last October and was tipped for last year's Nobel Peace Prize.
(Reporting By Aaron Ross; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Larry King)