Four DRC journalists attacked or threatened while covering election campaigns, one radio station closed

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo must ensure the safety of all journalists covering the presidential, legislative, and provincial elections scheduled for December 20 and allow for the free flow of news and information, which is critical for the public to make informed decisions, said the Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday.

Committee to Protect Journalists (15.12.2023) – CPJ has tracked attacks or threats against at least four journalists since the formal election campaign period began November 19, and the closure of at least one broadcast station. 

“Attacks on journalists Jerry Lombo Alauwa, Mao Zigabe, and Neyker Tokolo, threats against reporter John Kanyunyu Kyota, and the closure of Radio Top Lisala are stark examples of the various dangers faced by Congolese press covering ongoing election campaigns,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, in Nairobi. “The safety of journalists is absolutely critical as the DRC approaches its nationwide elections on December 20, and authorities must ensure reporters are able to cover campaign events and voting without fear of reprisal.”

Since November 22, freelance reporter John Kanyunyu Kyota  told CPJ he has received at least four death threats from anonymous callers purporting to be members of DRC intelligence agents. Kanyunyu has worked for the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in the country’s Beni city and runs a WhatsApp group called “Habari Moto Moto,” which serves as a forum for local political news. The anonymous callers suggested that content Kanyunyu shared on “Habari Moto Moto”, including old videos of Tshisekedi, have been overly supportive of opposition presidential candidate Moïse Katumbi. Kanyunyu told CPJ that he was not or against working for any candidate, but rather in favor of the population who have the right to information relating to the election, and that he had gone into hiding as a result of the threats.

Sébastien Kauma, the Beni police commander, told CPJ on December 8 that he was not aware of the threats and promised to instruct his officers to investigate.

On November 27, a security agent working for the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) and around 10 of its supporters punched Jerry Lombo Alauwa, who works as a reporter with the privately owned Canal Congo Télévision (CCTV) and Radio Liberté Kisangani (RALIK) broadcasters, in the head and arm, and pulled his clothes as he covered a presidential campaign event for opposition politician Moïse Katumbi, in Kisangani, the capital of the DRC’s eastern Tshopo province, according to media reports and Lombo who spoke to CPJ. Lombo said the supporters did not want him covering the opposition campaign, and the attack left his hand injured and his camera damaged.

The UNC supporters who attacked Lombo had been waiting for the arrival of Vital Kamerhe, the UNC party president and political ally of Tshisekedi, who was scheduled to arrive for a separate campaign event, when they spotted and attacked the journalist, Lombo said in a letter to the National Press Union of Congo (UNPC), which CPJ reviewed.

CPJ’s calls to Kamerhe went unanswered and calls to UNC Secretary General Billy Kambale did not connect.

On November 28, Desis Koyo, the mayor of the Mongala province’s capital, Lisala, issued an order banning all programs of the private Radio Top Lisala broadcaster for “incitement to hatred and serious harm to the process current election in the DRC,” according to Koyo who spoke on the phone with CPJ and director of this media Ernest Ngasa who spoke with CPJ. The outlet ceased broadcasting the same day and remains closed, they said.

Two days earlier, on November 26, Radio Top Lisala had broadcast information suggesting Rwandan influence over certain political parties and that these actors had tried to dissuade voters in Lisala from supporting Tshisekedi and his political ally Jean-Pierre Bemba, according to CPJ’s review of the content.

Koyo had previously closed Radio Top Lisala from October 6 until November 14.

The general rapporteur of the official Congolese media regulatory body, known as the High Council for Audiovisual and Communication (CSAC), Oscar Kabamba, told CPJ that he was not informed of the banning, that he would contact Koyo, who does not have the power to close a media outlet without input from the regulator.

On December 9, around 20 supporters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Tshisekedi’s political party, attacked and punched Mao Zigabe, a correspondent with the privately owned television broadcaster Digital Congo, at a hotel in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, according to media reports and Zigabe who spoke to CPJ. The attackers carried UDPS party flags and wore t-shirts with images of Tshisekedi, who was scheduled to visit the city the next day. Zigabe said he had gone to the hotel to work and was editing footage of other campaign events when the supporters recognized him and accused him of regularly publishing information in favor of the opposition. Zigabe said that he had sought treatment at a local hospital for pain in his leg and planned to file a complaint to police.

CPJ called the secretary general of the UDPS, Augustin Kabuya, but he did not answer.

On December 5, four armed soldiers arrived outside the home of Neyker Tokolo, a reporter with the privately owned Radio Liberté in Lisala fired their guns into the air, and threw four tear gas canisters inside, according to Tokolo, and the president of the local human rights organization Youth Action for Social Welfare (AJBS), Roger Nzumbu, who both spoke to CPJ.

Tokoko said he contacted the head of the Lisala military prosecutor’s office, who sent inspectors who found bullet casings and traces of military boots outside the home and promised to investigate further and identify those responsible.

The police commander of Mongale province, General Jean Yav Mukaya, told CPJ that he had not been informed of the Tokolo attack. Jacques Ebengo Kisombe, the military prosecutor of Lisala, did not pick up CPJ’s calls.

In addition to these actions, on December 6, the Kinshasa/Gombe court rejected Stanis Bujakera’s fourth request for provisional release, one of his lawyers, Ndikulu Yana, told CPJ.

On December 1, the court denied Bujakera’s request for an independent expert to give a second opinion on evidence presented against him, instead imposing an expert of its choosing, Yana said. Bujakera, who works as a correspondent for the privately owned Jeune Afrique news website and Reuters news agency, and is also a deputy director of publication for the DRC-based news website, has remained in detention since September 8. In late November, a group of media outlets published findings that called technical evidence presented against Bujakera “false.” Yana said Bujakera’s next court date was scheduled for December 22.

In the DRC’s elections set for next week, President Felix Tshisikedi is running for a second term against one of the leaders of the opposition  Martin Fayulu, who claimed victory in the 2018 vote, and Nobel-winning gynecologist Denis Mukwege, among others.

Photo: Journalists (clockwise from left) Jerry Lombo Alauwa, Mao Zigabe, Neyker Tokolo, and John Kanyunyu Kyota, have been attacked or threatened since Democratic Republic of Congo’s formal election campaign period began on November 19, 2023. (Photos courtesy of the journalists)