DRC: New press law and Digital Code: certain press offences remain criminalised
#DRC/#RDC authorities should swiftly reform the country’s new press law and digital code to ensure journalism is not criminalized and the media can work without undue restrictions or fear of prosecution - @pressfreedom @jedkinshasa @OlpaRdc @MONUSCO https://t.co/uDUwTXQ6EX— CPJ Africa (@CPJAfrica) May 24, 2023
New press law and digital code
On 4th April 2023, members of the National Assembly adopted Ordinance Law 23/009 of 13th March 2023 establishing the terms and conditions for the exercise of Freedom of the Press, broadcast information by radio and television, the written press or any other means of communication in DRC. This Ordinance Law, promulgated by President Tshisekedi, replaces the restrictive Law 96/002 of 22nd June 1996 on press freedom and follows one of the recommendations from the National Convention on the state of communication and media in DRC that took place in January 2022 in Kinshasa.
Although press freedom groups have lauded this so-called Law Muyaya due to its advancements compared with the 1996 Law, they also highlighted shortcomings, in particular the continued criminalisation of press offences. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), who reviewed the law, some of the restrictive provisions include:
- Section 113 provides that “offenses by the online press are punished in accordance with the legislation in force in criminal matters”;
- Section 123 provides that the publication, dissemination or reproduction of “false news” is punishable under the Penal Code or the Code of Military Justice if it is made in “bad faith” and has “shaken discipline or the morale of the armies or has hindered the war effort of the nation”;
- Section 124 says that the Penal Code will be used against anyone committing a press offense against “magistrates, civil servants and agents vested with public authority”.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) and Journalistes en Danger (JED) have also highlighted certain flaws: the law does not establish specific and binding mechanisms to ensure the respect for independence, pluralism and reliability of public service media; it does not contain guarantees for the confidentiality of sources, although it recognises it as a right; and highlights the need to guarantee the safety of journalists:
The Congolese authorities must also, as a matter of urgency, take concrete measures to apply certain provisions concerning the safety and protection of journalists in the context of the persistent security crisis, particularly in the east of the country, and the increase in pre-election political tensions. Adopting a new law is one thing, ensuring that everyone respects it is another. - Tshivis Tshivuadi, secretary-general Journalistes en Danger (JED)
Furthermore, article 360 of the newly adopted Digital Code, Law 23/010 of 23rd March 2023, provides for up to six months in prison and/or a fine of up to 1 million Congolese francs (approximately 400 USD) for persons, including journalists, convicted of initiating or relaying false information via social media networks or IT systems. Articles 358 and 359 of the Code provide for a prison sentence of up to two years and a fine of 10 million francs (approximately 4,000 USD) when found guilty of initiating electronic communication that “constrains, intimidates, harasses or provokes emotional distress in a person” with the aim of encouraging “behaviour that is hateful, tribal and hostile to good morals and patriotic values” or when the sender should have known it would “gravely affect” the “tranquillity of the targeted person.”
Stany Bujakera en danger ⛔️ ⚠️— Kamanda kela F. (@KamandaKela1) March 10, 2023
Le Ministre de la Défense Nationale de M. TSHISEKEDI vient de déposer une plainte contre le célèbre Journaliste @StanysBujakera pour museler la presse.
Cet acte dénote clairement la dictature du régime dictatorial de Kinshasa. @jeune_afrique… pic.twitter.com/9tBmybI9wY
Journalists slapped with criminal complaints by government officials
On 9th March 2023, DRC’s Minister of Defence, Gilbert Kabanda, filed a criminal complaint against journalist Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, accusing the journalist of publishing false rumours through a Twitter post on 5th March 2023. The actualité.cd journalist, who also works as a correspondent for media outlet Jeune Afrique and Reuters, that day posted a tweet, quoting Kabanda from the official minutes of the cabinet meeting on 3rd March 2023, expressing surprise over the advancement of the M23 rebels in eastern DRC. In his complaint, Minister Kabanda reportedly said that he did not “recognise being the author” of the quote.
The complaint was withdrawn, reportedly after intervention by the Minister of Communication, Patrick Muyaya.
In a separate development, a dozen police officers arrested journalist Mills Tshibangu in Kinshasa on 2nd April 2023 following a criminal defamation complaint by the Minister of Mines, Antoinette Nsamba Kalambayi, over the journalist’s reporting alleging corruption involving a lithium mine. Tshibangu, who works for online broadcaster Chat Television, was held in a cell at the local prosecutor’s office and released on 3rd April 2023. He was ordered to return a few days later, when his case was adjourned. The journalist said that he had contacted Nsamba and her advisor for comments prior to broadcasting, and that neither had responded.
Criminal defamation is penalised in article 74 of the Criminal Code with a prison sentence of eight days to a year and/or a fine.
Journalists arrested, threatened with arrest
In March and April 2023, several journalists were detained or were threatened with arrest, as documented by CPJ:
- On 14th April 2023, agents of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) detained Gustave Bakuka, who works for Radio Mushauri, in Kindu, Maniema province, reportedly on accusations of ‘spreading false rumours’ in an article he wrote and shared on a WhatsApp group commenting on security issues in Kindu;
- On 10th April 2023, a prosecutor in Kinshasa summoned and detained Diègo Kayiba, journalist for Kin Actu TV and news site Reportage.cd, over tweets he posted in April 2023. The twitter posts, since then removed, allege that the head of the General Inspectorate of Finance, Jules Alingete Key, betrayed the President with his own presidential ambitions and failed to be transparent with his personal spending.
- On 9th April 2023, Jean-Calvin Mingashanga, the elected representative for Tshikapa, capital city of Kasai Province, sent an audio message to Netic-news.net journalist Sylvain Kabongo, threatening him with arrest for his “baseless article”, in which the journalist commented on Mingashanga’s relationship with the Minister of Finance and his constituents;
- On 27th March 2023, ANR agents detained journalist John Ngongo Lomango, director of broadcaster Radiotélévision Envangélique Phare (RTEP) in Kindu, Maniema province, reportedly on accusations of dissemination of false information in a broadcast on 25th March 2023. In the broadcast, Lomango alleged that Angolan soldiers had arrived at Kindu airport the week before to assist the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) in implementing a ceasefire with the M23 rebel group. The journalist was released unconditionally on 27th March 2023, but his phone reportedly remained confiscated.
Journalists attacked, arrested by police during protest
According to Journalistes en Danger (JED), a Congolese press freedom group, three journalists were injured and two arrested while covering a protest on 18th January 2023 in Goma, North Kivu province. Police officers used tear gas and violence to disperse the protest, organised by social movements against the presence of soldiers of the East African Community (EAC), deployed to assist the Congolese army in fighting the armed groups in eastern DRC, which the protesters perceive as inefficient in quelling the violence.
News reports indicate that police officers threatened a group of journalists, while one officer threw tear gas in the direction of the journalists. The two arrested journalists – Freddy Ruvunangiza of laprunellerdc.info and Justin Kabumba, correspondent for France 24, were released after a few hours, together with six activists and protesters from social movements who were also arrested during the protest.
Nord-Kivu: OLPA préoccupé par les pressions sur les médias de Rutshuru https://t.co/bDnfSLS7ZU— OLPA (@OlpaRdc) February 16, 2023
Wave of reprisals against, intimidation of journalists in area controlled by M23
On 14th February 2023, the heads of broadcast media operating in Rutshuru, North Kivu province, were summoned by armed rebel group M23, who control parts of Rutshuru. According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), the rebels accused the media directors of ‘inciting hatred’ and ordered them to change their editorial line. Furthermore, M23 prohibited the retransmitting of Top Congo FM, a popular radio station broadcasting from Kinshasa, and carrying Sauti ya Wahimi (The Voice of the Displaced), a programme produced in Goma by journalists who fled M23-controlled areas, for a period of 60 days. Instead, according to RSF, the stations were ordered to broadcast a weekly programme, Maisha ya Kwetu (Life at Home), led by a M23 member.
While M23 has threatened media outlets and journalists in the occupied areas into submission, in a statement issued on 15th February 2023, the national media regulator, the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (CSAC) threatened media outlets with legal proceedings for complying with M23 orders and relaying M23 information.
Other recent incidents and press freedom violations in North Kivu province include the arbitrary detention of journalists by the armed forces of DRC (FARDC), the looting of media outlets’ equipment and physical violence against journalists:
- On 3rd February 2023, armed rebels looted Radio Bashali, a radio station reportedly known for its impartial reporting on the conflict in eastern DRC, based in Bashali, Masisi Territory. Its journalists managed to save some equipment before they fled.
- On 2nd February 2023, four journalists were arrested by FARDC soldiers in Saké, Masisi Territory. The four – photographer Ismaël Matungulu, AFP correspondent Aubin Mukoni, AFP photographer Héritier Baraka Munyampfura and correspondent for news agency Anadolu Augustin Wamenya – were accused of being in an operational zone without the army’s permission although they reported their presence to authorities. Later they were accused of being spies for Rwanda and providing information to the M23 armed rebel group. While the four were released on 5th and 6th February, the charges of treason were only dropped on 8th February 2023.
- On 11th March 2023, two journalists were beaten up by police officers while covering a peaceful protest in Kasindi to denounce the conflict between DRC and Rwanda. The two journalists were later taken and dropped off on a dangerous road known to be frequented by rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
In the context of the escalating tension between DRC and Rwanda, accused by the DRC authorities and UN experts of backing the M23 rebels, the CSAC suspended the broadcasting of all Rwandan channels on satellite TV for a period of 90 days on 10th February 2023 on accusations of “disinformation, inciting civil disobedience and general insurrection against the DRC public authorities, systematically denigrating national institutions and their representatives, and justifying war”. CSAC further said that the suspension was in response to the jamming of Congolese TV channels in Rwanda.
Suspension of radio station
On 9th January 2023, the provincial authorities of Lomami province issued an order suspending radio station Radio Tokomi Wapi, owned by national Member of Parliament Eliezer Ntambwe, and sent police officers to the radio station’s offices in Kabinda to enforce the suspension. The order, citing a resolution by the provincial security council, accuses the radio station of inciting the local population to tribalism, revolt and the disobeying of provincial authorities, on top of failing to comply with journalistic ethics. The order further requires Tokomi Wapi to submit a list of its journalists.
The director of the radio station, Jonas Ngiefu, told CPJ the suspension is related to a broadcast of the programme ‘Facing the public’ on 6th January 2023, in which a guest criticised Governor Nathan Ilunga and his provincial administration. Ilunga commented to CPJ that he convened the provincial security meeting following the broadcast, which he says insulted the Lomami government.
On 4th February 2023, the Appeal Court of Lomami annulled the suspension order of Radio Tokomi Wapi.
Opposition protest against M23 attacks, conflict in eastern DRC
On 11th March 2023, a protest organised by opposition leaders took place in Kinshasa against the conflict in eastern DRC, attacks by the armed rebel group M23 and the alleged support of Rwanda to M23. The protest was authorised and no incidents were reported.
A similar protest in Kasindi, North Kivu province, on the same day, however, resulted in the detention of nine protesters and two journalists (see also under Expression). The activists and journalists were later taken and dropped off, 20 km from Kasindi, on a dangerous road known to be frequented by rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Social movement activists arrested during protest
According to news reports, 11 activists of the social movement Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) were arrested by police officers during a protest in Beni, North Kivu, on 30th March 2023 against alleged irregularities in voter registration centres in the city. Police accuse the activists of having organised an unauthorised protest during the State of Siege in the province. The 11 were released in the evening of 30th March 2023.
The State of Siege, similar to a state of emergency, has been imposed in the eastern provinces of Ituri and North Kivu since May 2021.
Protest against visit of French president
On 1st March 2023, dozens of Congolese youth protested before the French embassy in Kinshasa to denounce the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, accused by protesters of supporting Rwanda at the expense of DRC. Rwanda is accused by the DRC authorities and UN experts of backing the M23 rebels in eastern DRC.
Break-in at HRD’s home, intimidation and threats
According to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, unidentified armed intruders broke into the home of human rights defender Dismas Kitenge, the president of human rights CSO Lotus Group, in Kisangani, Tshopo province, on 28th March 2023. The intruders, who were wearing balaclavas and military uniforms, shot at the door, searched the house for Kitenge and stole valuables and cash when they could not find Kitenge. The perpetrators further fired into the field in front of the house when they left and threatened to return soon.
A few days earlier, Kitenge was subjected to anonymous death threats and was attacked by a group of young men claiming to be members of the political party of Jean-Pierre Bemba, Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). The home invasion, death threats and attack came after Kitenge gave interviews on Radio France Internationale (RFI) and actualite.cd on 25th March 2023 commenting on the appointment of a new government, in which Bemba is the new Minister of Defence.
As reported previously on the Monitor, Kitenga has been subjected to threats in the past. In January 2022, the civil society activist was subjected to intimidation, threats, insults and vilification for statements he made on social media platforms.