Congo journalists face danger ahead of election

AP News
Posted: Sep 28, 2011 10:40 AM
Congo journalists face danger ahead of election

A dozen men scaled the wall of the private Congolese television station that is supporting the country's leading opposition presidential candidate. Investigators say the attackers doused the offices in gasoline and set them ablaze.

Two employees escaped the inferno only by climbing an air conditioning shaft onto the roof.

Journalists in Congo are being shot at, beaten up by police officers and illegally detained. Life for reporters has become ever more dangerous as tensions rise ahead of presidential and legislative elections scheduled in November.

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed on paper, in the constitution, but the reality we observe on the ground is ever-increasing threats," said Tshivis Tshivuadi, general secretary of Journalist in Danger, which warned of "an abrupt deterioration in freedom of the press."

Nine journalists have been killed in the country in the past five years, most recently a 29-year-old radio journalist who was fatally shot in June by men lying in wait near his home in eastern Congo.

The Nov. 28 polls will be only the second democratic elections in half a century in the mineral-rich country that still is recovering from decades of dictatorship followed by back to back civil wars that drew in a half-dozen African countries and only ended in 2003.

Already, attackers have silenced the main TV and radio station that was supporting veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who is running for election for the first time. Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is contesting the elections along with a slew of other candidates including Vital Kamerhe, a former ally who ran Kabila's 2006 campaign.

Last month, a national legislator threatened to go to the office of a female journalist and beat her up. The legislator believed she had hung up on him; the journalist said a bad telephone line dropped. But he used such foul language in a telephone conversation recorded by her newsroom, that her colleagues called it a "moral rape" of her character. The journalist, Eugenie Ntumba, since has received an anonymous death threat.

When Congolese journalist organizations held a meeting to protest with the president of the National Assembly, Evariste Boshab, he heckled them, saying: "You are here to inform and educate, not play the game of political manipulation."

Hundreds of journalists turned out for a "march of anger" last month to denounce the legislator and all "attacks, threats and assaults on journalists for doing their job."

In June, a presenter of Radio Lisanga Television, which supports Tshisekedi, was wounded when he was slashed in the back by machete-wielding men. In July, the government temporarily forced RLTV off the air, accusing it of inciting violence. In August, the station received anonymous threats after broadcasting footage of empty rows of seats during a convention of Kabila's party.

Media perceived as government opponents are not the only ones being attacked.

The offices of private Radio Television Lubumbashi were looted and partly burned after its owner, Kabila party member and former Cabinet minister Jean-Claude Muyambo, broadcast severe criticism of provincial Gov. Moise Katumbi, another Kabila supporter.

Six of the journalists slain have been killed in eastern Congo, where numerous armed rebel and militia groups still operate. Kambale Musonia, a 29-year-old reporting for Lubero South Community Radio, was shot three times in the stomach.

Musonia's death has been linked to his hosting of a call-in program in which people denounced insecurity that they blamed on a band of armed men working in complicity with police officers.

In its 2010 report, Journalist in Danger blamed officers in the government's feared national intelligence agency for half the threats against journalists that year.

Ominous warnings are being issued, including a threat made against Tshivuadi, who works for the journalist group.

"Soon you will pay for this. You and your families ... Be ready for the final battle," the threat said.


Associated Press writer Michelle Faul in Johannesburg contributed to this report.