October 14, 2015 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Cross-border cooperation in suppressing media coverage

Reporters Without Borders joins its Congolese partner, Journalist in Danger (JED), in condemning the arbitrary arrests of three journalists, one of them Burundian, during a raid yesterday on a radio station in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by security officials who had no warrant and no authority to censor the media.

Members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) stormed into Radio le Messager du Peuple in Uvira, in Sud-Kivu province, at around 2 p.m. yesterday, and arrested at least three people, including Congolese reporters Manzambi Mupenge and Lucien Kanana, and Burundian radio technician Egide Mwenero, who works for Burundi’s Radio Publique Africaine (RPA).

The three journalists were taken to the ANR’s local office but, at the time of writing, only the Burundian journalist was still being held.

Radio le Messager du Peuple had for some time been broadcasting a political magazine programme called Humura Burundi (“May Burundi be in peace” in the Kirundi language) that is produced by RPA, a very popular radio station based in the Burundian capital that has been banned from operating in Burundi since 27 April.

“This abrupt act of censorship by the Congolese government is unacceptable,”
said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk. “The raid clearly reflects the wish of the Burundian authorities, whose desire to suppress all dissident reporting had been thwarted.

“It yet again demonstrates that the governments of both countries want to keep media coverage under total control and prevent democratic debate. We call on the Congolese authorities to free the RPA journalist at once and to allow the RPA broadcasts to resume.”

Questioned by JED about the relationship between RPA and his station, Radio Le Messager du Peuple director Mutere Kifara said: “Our station signed a partnership with RPA to broadcast its political magazine Humura Burundi because Radio Le Messager du Peuple can be received in Burundi.”

He said he received a call on 7 October from an ANR official who wanted to know when the programme was broadcast. The next day, the radio station’s signal was jammed at exactly that time. This is confirmed by journalists who are still in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital.

On 9 October, Kifara had to stop broadcasting the programme in response to an order from the local authorities, who said they objected to this Burundian programme being broadcast from Uvira. His compliance with the order did not however suffice to prevent the ANR raid four days later.

DRC, an understanding neighbour

Ever since the start of the crisis in Burundi earlier this year, Congolese President Joseph Kabila has made no secret of his support for his Burundian counterpart and his desire for a third term. Congolese observers say Kabila also wants to find a way to hold on to power when his second term expires next year.

Censoring the media and intimidating journalists seem to be part of Kabila’s strategy for achieving this goal.
Since the start of the year, more than ten media outlets have been censored in the DRC, at least nine journalists have been physically attacked or directly threatened by the security forces, and other journalists have been arbitrarily arrested.

Using state-owned Radio Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) to disseminate propaganda is also part of the strategy. Observers report that RTNC branches have recently been set up in many provincial cities. Some RTNC journalists have talked about the government’s plans on condition of anonymity.

“We were recently instructed to always begin by highlighting the government’s actions and never criticize the authorities,” an RTNC journalist based in Nord-Kivu province said. “If you dare to do otherwise, you are liable to be punished. But either way, there is no chance that the editorial board will approve a story that criticizes the government.”

A Kinshasa-based RTNC journalist added: “The directives are clear. Either you help to keep his government in power or you go down with it.”

Security declining in Burundi

In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza 's regime has used very radical methods, orchestrating direct physical attacks on journalists, gradually closing privately-owned radio stations last April and forcing them to remain closed ever since. Around 100 journalists have fled abroad and the situation does not seem to be improving.

Murders are continuing although Radio France Internationale reported yesterday the interior ministry's claim that the security situation was “good overall.” At least five people were shot dead last night in the north Bujumbura district of Ngagara including Christophe Nkezabahizi, a TV cameraman with state-owned RTNB, who was murdered at his home along with his wife and two children in a raid by the security forces.

Burundi and the DRC are ranked 145th and 150th respectively in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.