DRC: Over 50 killed in protest; renowned journalist arrested, prosecuted
RD Congo : Répression contre l’opposition avant les élections https://t.co/MokopKQJ5V— HRW en français (@hrw_fr) August 22, 2023
HRW: Crackdown on opposition ahead of general elections
Since May 2023, ahead of general elections expected to take place on 20th December 2023, authorities have targeted leaders of political opposition parties, restricting their fundamental freedoms and arresting party officials, says human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW). This includes preventing sit-ins, rallies and political meetings organised by opposition members and the arrest of opposition leaders and top officials.
Salomon Idi Kalonda, top advisor for presidential candidate Moïse Katumbi, was arrested on 30th May 2023, and is accused of treason, complicity with M23, an armed group, and having relations with Rwandan officers. Rwanda is accused of backing M23 by the DRC authorities and UN reports. On 20th June 2023, members of the Republican Guard arrested opposition presidential candidate Franck Diongo in Kinshasa on accusations of illegal possession of a weapon. He was held at the headquarters of military intelligence and released without charge on 15th July 2023.
On 13th July 2023, member of Parliament and spokesperson for the political opposition party Ensemble pour la République (Together for the Republic), Chérubin Okende Senga, was found murdered in his car in Kinshasa. Two people were swiftly arrested in relation to the killing while the government announced an inquiry into the murder to ensure transparency but failed to provide further details.
Plus de cinquante personnes, adeptes d’une secte hostile aux Nations unies, avaient été tuées à la fin d’août quand des militaires avaient ouvert le feu sur la foule. La peine capitale n’est plus appliquée en RDC et est systématiquement commuée en ... https://t.co/IW0JXtOXza— Le Monde Afrique (@LeMonde_Afrique) October 3, 2023
Over 50 people killed in anti-MONUSCO and anti-EACRF protest in Goma
On 30th August 2023, over 50 people were shot and killed during a protest in Goma, North Kivu province in eastern DRC. Military officers had been deployed early in the morning to prevent the protest to demand the departure of the United Nations peacekeeping force in DRC, MONUSCO, and soldiers from the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) regional military force. The protest, organised by the mystic religious sect Natural Judaic and Messianic Faith Towards the Nations (Foi naturelle judaïque et messianique vers les nations), was banned by local authorities.
According to media reports, quoting an internal document by the Armed Forces of DRC (FARDC), at least 48 civilians were killed, 75 people were injured in the protest and 168 people, including the “guru” of the sect, Efraimu Bisimwa, were arrested. One police officer was reportedly stoned to death in the protest. Later, military public prosecutor Colonel Michel Kachil said that there had been 56 casualties during the protest.
On 1st September 2023, 143 civilians who were arrested at the protest appeared before the military court of Goma on accusations of having been the instigators of the violence. On 4th September 2023, however, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and Security Peter Kazadi announced the release of all those arrested, while also declaring the government’s responsibility for the funerals of all those who were killed on 30th August 2023.
On 5th September 2023, proceedings against six accused military officers, including two officers of the elite Garde Républicaine (Republican Guard), started before the North Kivu military court at the military camp of Katindo in Goma. The six are accused of ‘crimes against humanity by murder and incitement of soldiers to commit acts contrary to duty or discipline’. On 2nd October 2023, the military court convicted four of the six military officers.
Congolese military forces appear to have fired into a crowd to prevent a demonstration, an extremely callous as well as unlawful way to enforce a ban. For two years, the military authorities have used the ‘state of siege’ – martial law – in North Kivu province to brutally crack down on fundamental liberties. - Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch
Protests against MONUSCO, seen by protesters as being ineffective to quell the insecurity in eastern DRC, have happened on several occasions in eastern DRC. As reported previously on the Monitor, at least 36 people were killed in anti-UN protests in July 2022.
#FreeStanis - Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, correspondant de @jeune_afrique en #RDC, a été placé sous mandat d’arrêt provisoire le 11 septembre, après trois jours de garde à vue.— Jeune Afrique (@jeune_afrique) September 12, 2023
Cette détention est en contradiction avec les dispositions relatives au droit public à l’information de… pic.twitter.com/bS6mOi4Cyq
Journalist arrested, prosecuted
On 8th September 2023, renowned journalist Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, the deputy publication director of news site actualite.cd and correspondent for Reuters and Jeune Afrique, was detained at the Kinshasa N’djili airport on accusations of ‘spreading false rumours’ and ‘disseminating false information’. The accusations relate to an article published by Jeune Afrique on 31st August 2023 alleging that a report by the National Intelligence Service claims that the military intelligence service officers were responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Member of Parliament and spokesperson for the political opposition party Ensemble pour la République (Together for the Republic) Chérubin Okende Senga on 13th July 2023. The article mentioned that it was written by Jeune Afrique’s “news staff” and did not carry the journalist’s name as an author.
The DRC government has described the National Intelligence report as a hoax aimed at “discrediting the government’s actions”, disputing the report’s authenticity.
The journalist was taken to a police station, where his laptop and two phones were confiscated. After having been held for three days in police custody, where he was interrogated three times over the article, Bujakera’s case was transferred to the prosecutor’s office of Kinshasa-Gombe, who issued a provisional arrest warrant. On 14th September 2023, the journalist was transferred to the prison of Makala in Kinshasa.
On 20th September 2023, Rassemblement des journalistes pour l’émergence du Congo (RAJEC), a grouping of journalists, organised a sit-in before the offices of the Ministry of Justice in Kinshasa to demand the unconditional release of Bujakera. They also demand an end to the prosecution of journalists in DRC. The protesters handed over a memorandum to the Minister’s advisor. On 19th September 2023, press freedom group Reporters without Borders (RSF) referred the case to the United Nations Group of Arbitrary Detention.
As reported previously on the Monitor, in March 2023, Bujakera faced a criminal complaint, filed by the Minister of Defence Gilbert Kabanda, for ‘publishing false rumours’. In 2022, the journalist was subjected to threats, including death threats, via social media and telephone calls over his reporting on eastern DRC.
RDC : à quatre mois des élections, RSF s’inquiète des attaques contre les journalistes couvrant le processus électoral https://t.co/JiZCOIFGY8— ACTUALITE.CD (@actualitecd) August 21, 2023
Multiple journalists assaulted in election-related incidents
According to press freedom organisations Journalistes en Danger (JED), the Committee to Protect journalists (CPJ) and Reporters without Borders (RSF), several journalists were subjected to physical violence while covering political activities in the lead-up to the general elections of December 2023. Some of the incidents include:
- Franck Kalonji, a reporter for online news site actu7.cd, was slapped and manhandled on 29th July 2023 by supporters of political opposition party Engagement pour la Cioyenneté et le Développement (ECIDE; Engagement for Citizenship and Development), the political party of opposition leader Martin Fayulu, during a party meeting in Ndjili. The journalist said the men accused him of being a spy sent by the ruling party of President Tshisekedi, UDPS, before the attack. Kalonji’s phone was confiscated. The attack was stopped after intervention from ECIDE party officials, who also arranged for the journalist’s phone to be returned.
- On the same day, suspected supporters of the ruling presidential party UDPS attacked a convoy of journalists accompanying Delly Sesang, Member of Parliament and presidential candidate for the political party Envol, to a rally in Kananga, Kasaï Central province. The group of perpetrators threw rocks, burned tyres and barricaded roads in an attempt to prevent the group from attending the rally. Sesanga and three journalists - Elysée Odia of Yabisonews.cd, Didier Kebongo of Forum des As newspaper and Trésor Kalafayi of Congo Web TV - sustained minor head injuries.
- Journalist José Nkoso, director of Radio Bomoko Mankanza, was assaulted at his residence in Mankanza, Equateur province, on 25th July 2023 by Lich Nkele, the federal president of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC, Movement for the Liberation of Congo), a political party allied to President Tshisekedi, and three of its members. According to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ, the men were angry because an activist he interviewed on his radio station said that MLC candidates would lose in the elections. The four alleged perpetrators beat the journalist with sticks and broke windows and doors. The four were reportedly arrested but Nkele was later released.
- Director of online news site Liberteactu.cd Doux-Jésus Beledu was assaulted in early July 2023 in Kinshasa by suspected opposition supporters. The perpetrators reportedly surrounded the journalist, accused him of being a pro-government journalist and threatened him, while one of them threw a metal object at him.
M23 rebels ban radio show by displaced Congolese journalists - Committee to Protect Journalists https://t.co/5dfHCJzDxN— CPJ Africa (@CPJAfrica) July 20, 2023
Armed rebel group bans radio programme
On 14th July 2023, the head of communication and media of the armed rebel group M23 banned the radio programme Sauti Ya Wahami (The Voice of the Displaced) to four private broadcasters - Radio Horizon FM, Radio Communautaire de Rutshuru, Radio Alliance and Radio Racove - in Rutshuru, North Kivu province, eastern DRC. According to CPJ, the programme was prohibited from being aired for a period of 60 days in the “interest of consolidating peace, the communion of communities and promoting living together”.
The radio station directors received the message that they are “invited to the meeting on 10th August to evaluate this programme” and that the programme continues to be suspended until then. During the online meeting on 10th August 2023, radio stations were ‘authorised’ by M23 to resume broadcasting of Sauti Ya Wahami.
Sauti Ya Wahami is a Swahili-language radio programme produced and hosted by dozens of journalists, mainly internally displaced persons, from Goma, which lies outside the M23-occupied areas. On several occasions in the past, M23 rebels have visited radio stations that broadcast or helped produce Sauti Ya Wahami, intimidating and threatening staff.
In February 2023, M23 had already prohibited the broadcasting of the radio programme and retransmitting Top Congo FM, a popular radio station broadcasting from Kinshasa, for a period of two months. Instead, according to RSF, the stations were ordered to broadcast a weekly programme, Maisha ya Kwetu (Life at Home), led by a M23 member. Top Congo FM continues to be banned by M23.
While M23 has threatened media outlets and journalists in the occupied areas into submission, the national media regulator, the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (CSAC), has likewise threatened legal proceedings against media complying with M23 orders and relaying M23 information.
Journalist physically attacked by immigration officers
On 1st September 2023, ten immigration officers reportedly grabbed and dragged journalist Soleil Ntumba Mufike and threw him to the floor. Ntumba, who works as director of information for the broadcaster Malandji, was covering the court-ordered eviction of the family of the deputy director of the national Directorate General of Migration in Kananga, Kasai Central province, when the incident occurred. Police officers reportedly intervened to end the attack, but the journalist’s camera was broken and his microphone lost.