Democratic Republic of the Congo
On 20th December 2021, three people - including a six month old baby - were killed when police opened fire during a protest in Goma, North Kivu. A coalition of citizen movements had called for a ville morte protest action to denounce the increasing insecurity in eastern DRC and, what protesters believe but is denied by authorities, plans to deploy Rwandan police in the fight against terrorism.
DRC: Ban on songs criticizing the government highlights urgent need to repeal censorship law https://t.co/klAe7lJvbO— AmnestySouthernAfrica (@AmnestySARO) November 11, 2021
Nine songs critical of government censored
On 9th November 2021, DRC's National Censorship Commission of Songs and Performances issued a ban on the broadcasting of seven songs. Among the banned songs figure "Nini to salite" (What have we not done) by MPR (Musique populaire de la révolution) and Bob Elvis' "La lettre à ya tshitshi", both criticising social injustice in the country and criticising the political administration of President Tshisekedi. On 10th November 2021, Minister of Justice Rose Mutombo ordered the Commission to repeal the decision to ban the song "Nini to salite" following a public outcry. However, the six other songs remained banned.
A 1996 decree gives power to the National Censorship Commission to regulate content before a song is released to the public or before a show is performed before the public. According to Amnesty International, the decree lacks a clear framework or standards and does not provide remedies.
#RDC #Kinshasa : tout mon soutien à mon collègue @ligodipatient. C’est très grave. Le patron de la police, Sylvano Kasongo, promet que les officiers impliqués seront sanctionnés et parle d’un sérieux problème d’éducation. @RFI et @actualitecd ne manqueront pas de suivre https://t.co/Vub3DM1h2R— Sonia Rolley (@soniarolley) September 15, 2021
Journalists assaulted, injured, detained while covering protests
At least four journalists were assaulted and injured while covering protests in December 2021, according to press freedom CSO Journaliste en Danger (JED). Radio-télévision la Voix Populaire (RTVP) journalist Matthieu Ntita was violently beaten by a police officer while covering a protest of taxi drivers against the National Insurance Company on 17th December 2021 in the district of Ngamdajika, Lomami province. At least three journalists were injured by live ammunition and other journalists were beaten while attempting to cover a protest in front of the Provincial Assembly of South Kivu. Jérémie Baraka and Ishara Masirika of online media outlet kivuavenir.com and Crispin Murhula of Radio Télévision Eka were hit by bullets while other journalists were beaten and/or affected by tear gas.
At least two journalists were brutalised by police officers and the premises of one media outlet attacked during a protest against the 'politicisation' of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on 15th September 2021 (see also under Peaceful Assembly). In a video spread on social media, Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent and Actualités CD director Patient Ligodi is seen being "detained, beaten, dragged along the ground and thrown in the back of a police car, which drives off with Ligodi’s legs hanging out of the still-open back door". Patrick Muyaya, Minister of Communication denounced the "police blunder" and opened an investigation into the incident. Reporters without Borders (RSF) said there were other victims of police brutality, including Louange Vangu of Actu 24 CD who was roughed up. Police also fired teargas at the headquarters of media outlet RTVS1, owned by a political opponent Adophe Muzito. Journalists were reportedly unable to work and were only able to leave the premises in the evening.
Journalist Sosthène Kambidi released after spending three weeks in prison
On 20th September 2021, plainclothes military officers arrested journalist Sosthène Kambidi, who works for Actualité.cd and as a correspondent for international news agencies in Kananga at a hotel in Kinshasa. Initially questioned regarding the 2017 killing of UN sanctions monitors Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan, he was later charged with crimes of terrorism, criminal conspiracy and insurrection. Kambidi contributed to investigations by RFI and Reuters into the killings.
He was provisionally released three weeks later, on 12th October 2021. Although the investigation into the above charges was abandoned, the journalist is still being investigated for "culpable abstention".
House of journalist torched in Ituri province
According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), journalist Prince Syaghendera's house in Komanda, Ituri province, was set alight and burnt while he was out reporting on 26th September 2021. According to witnesses, the perpetrators belong to the militia group Chini ya Kilima. The reporter for community radio Tuendelee and online media outlet Bunia-Info24 told RSF that he had been receiving threatening messages from the militia group earlier in the year as a result of his reporting accusing the militia group of abuses and went into hiding following the arson.
Annual report on press freedom: "A bad time for the press in the Democratic Republic of the Congo".
In its annual report on press freedom, the CSO Journaliste en Danger said they had registered at least 101 press freedom violations. Over half of these violations concern the physical safety of journalists, including threats against and killing of journalists. During a press conference on 2nd November 2021, JED expressed concerns about the safety of journalists based in North Kivu and Ituri, the two provinces that have been under a State of Siege since May 2021, having registered a higher number of violations, including killing of journalists . Additionally, the rights organisation sees that the approaching pre-electoral period - the next presidential elections will take place in 2023 - could lead to increasing violations against journalists and media.
URGENT - Le tribunal militaire de garnison de Goma vient d’accorder la liberté provisoire à nos camarades Parfait Muhani et Ghislain Muhiwa qui étaient détenus depuis 4 mois pour le premier et 2 mois pour le second, à l’instigation de la fondation Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi. pic.twitter.com/IoNAwwwSST— LUCHA 🇨🇩 (@luchaRDC) November 6, 2021
HRDs provisionally released
On 6th November 2021, HRDs and members of movement Lutte pour le changement (LUCHA) Parfait Muhani and Ghislain Muhiwa were provisionally released by the Military Court in Goma. Parfait Muhani was arbitrarily arrested on 6th July 2021, without a warrant, and later charged with defamation, contempt of the judiciary and criminal association. According to Human Rights Watch, Muhani faces the death penalty for these charges. The death penalty has not been carried out in DRC in the past two decades but could still land the activist a life sentence. Ghislain Muhiwa was arrested on 22nd August 2021 and charged with defamation. The arrests follow the allegations by LUCHA that local authorities in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu, and staff members of the Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi Foundation had diverted goods intended for victims displaced by the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in May 2021. The Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi Foundation, a foundation founded by the First Lady of DRC, wife of President Tshisekedi, did not respond to the allegations but filed complaints against LUCHA members. An arrest warrant was also issued for a third LUCHA member, Espoir Ngalukiye. Charges against the two HRDs remain in place.
HRDs charged with defamation after nine months in detention
On 19th November 2021, three activists of the movement Jicho la Raiya (The Eye of the Citizens) were presented before a magistrate and charged with defamation. They were arrested nine months before, on 18th February 2021, in Kirotshe, North Kivu while planning to protest against “illegal road taxation” and alleged mismanagement of the Kirotshe health district. According to Amnesty International, the three activists - Claude Lwaboshi Buhazi, Faustin Ombeni Tulinabo and Serge Mikindo Waso - were transferred to the Central Goma Prison on 2nd March 2021. Their initial appearance before a magistrate, planned in May 2021, was cancelled due to the declaration of a State of Siege in DRC's eastern provinces of Ituri and North Kivu in May 2021. Under the State of Siege criminal charges are transferred to military courts. On 26th November 2021, a bail application for the three was rejected.
HRD accused of defamation
HRD and leader of human rights organisation Justicia Asbl Timothée Mbuya appeared in the Peace Court in Lubumbashi, Haut-Katanga, on 10th January 2022. The HRD is accused of harmful accusations and defamation by Ferme Espoir, a farm owned by former president Kabila. The complaint relates to a report by Justicia Asbl, on 30th September 2021, accusing Ferme Espoir of having erected their fences beyond their property into the Kundelungu national park, causing adverse effects on biodiversity in the park. Dozens of activists gathered before the court prior to the hearing. The court ruled that correct procedures were not followed by Ferme Espoir, as summonses were sent to Justicia Asbl instead of to the accused. Rams Wasolela of La Voix du Peuple commented on the trial:
"No to the instrumentalisation of justice, no to the plunder of the Kundelungu and Upemba parks. Our presence here is also a way of calling on the judicial authorities to be impartial in this kind of case."
DR Congo: Protesters Shot Dead, Wounded in Goma https://t.co/okLxlnv9iV— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) December 24, 2021
Protest against insecurity in Goma: at least three people killed
On 20th December 2021, three people - including a six month old baby - were killed when police opened fire during a protest in Goma, North Kivu. A coalition of citizen movements had called for a ville morte protest action to denounce the increasing insecurity in eastern DRC and, what protesters believe but is denied by authorities, plans to deploy Rwandan police in the fight against terrorism. According to media reports, protesters barricaded roads and burnt tyres, while police used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the protesters. Clashes and violence reportedly took place. At least 12 other people were injured and 17 people were arrested. Police said that two officers were killed and two injured.
Protests against 'politicisation' of Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI)
Several protests against the 'politicisation' of CENI took place in DRC following the controversial appointment of Denis Kadima as head of CENI, perceived as being close to President Tshisekedi, and CENI's members.
On 22nd November 2021, police prevented a protest organised by lay Catholics, Protestants and opposition parties in Kinshasa. According to media reports, police barricaded access to the premises of CENI headquarters. Around one hundred protesters gathered despite the massive police deployment. The governor of Kinshasa had banned the protest, citing the risks of spreading COVID-19 and disturbance of order as grounds for the ban.
At the call of lay Catholics and Protestants, thousands, including civil society members and members of the opposition, had already protested against the 'politicisation' of CENI and against the social situation of the country on 13th November 2021 in Kinshasa. Hundreds of people also protested in Kikwit, eastern DRC. The protest was authorised and no incidents were reported.
On 15th September 2021, a protest by the political opposition coalition Lamuka against the 'politicisation' of CENI was repressed by police officers, who used violence and tear gas against protesters. Several journalists, including RFI correspondent Patient Ligodi, were physically attacked by police officers. (see under Expression). At least eight people were arrested. The protest was banned by local authorities and a heavy deployment of security officers was present in order to prevent the protest from taking place.