Congolese community radio station torched for covering Ebola

After last week’s arson attack on a community radio station in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the lack of measures by the Congolese authorities and the organizations in charge of combatting the Ebola epidemic in the east of the country to protect media and journalists who are assisting their efforts.

“The threats continue and we have received no support,” said Parfait Katoto, the helpless director of Amkeni, a community radio station in Biakato, a locality in Ituri, one of the Ebola-hit provinces. Repeatedly threatened in the past for broadcasting messages about preventing Ebola, which has killed more than 2,200 people in the DRC in the past two years, Amkeni was the target of an arson attack on the night of 21 January that destroyed its generator and part of its premises.

“Since the murder of a journalist who covered Ebola in November, reporters and radio station presenters have continued to receive threats, as we already reported, and this time a radio station has been torched without any appropriate reaction,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.“The Congolese authorities and those handling the Ebola response, including the UN and WHO, rely a great deal on the courageous work of the community radio stations to combat the epidemic’s spread. They therefore have a duty to ensure the safety the threatened journalists and media outlets and to assist those that have been attacked. It is absolutely abnormal that those who have fully participated in the response efforts by broadcasting information should then become collateral victims of the virus they are helping to combat without any measure being taken to put a stop to this.”

Covering the epidemic can be very dangerous. The health measures often elicit a great deal of hostility from sections of the population and the armed groups present in the eastern DRC. Papy Mahamba Mumbere, a journalist with Lwemba community radio, was murdered on 2 November, a few hours after hosting a programme about the response to the Ebola epidemic."

RSF identified a dozen cases of intimidation and violence in the course of an investigation last year into the dangers for journalists and media outlets who tackle this subject in the Ebola-hit provinces. Amkeni’s staff had reported being threatened from all sides and “living in fear.” Two of its journalists were attacked and some of their equipment was stolen. Leaflets with death threats were left at the station, which decided to suspend its programmes on Ebola for a month. It had resumed broadcasting the programmes a month ago and had begun receiving new warnings in the days preceding the arson attack.

In a report published last week on Félix Tshisekedi’s first year as president, RSF partner organization Journalist in Danger (JED) noted that the new government has taken no significant security or judicial measure to defend press freedom. When RSF and JED met jointly with President Tshisekedi on the sidelines of the Paris Peace Forum in November, they told him they were ready to help improve press freedom in the DRC, recommending the rapid adoption of a mechanism to protect journalists, a new media law scrapping prison sentences for journalists, and a moratorium on arrests of journalists in connection with their work pending adoption of the new law.

The DRC is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

Published on
Updated on 28.01.2020