March 11, 2016 - Updated on March 21, 2016

Journalist held arbitrarily, Nord-Kivu authorities impose reporting blackout

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is extremely concerned about radio journalist Mapendo King’s detention for the past six days in Rutshuru Territory, a troubled region in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu, and calls for his immediate release.

King has been held since 5 March, when members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) based in the locality of Tongo stormed into his radio station, La Voix de Rutshuru, with the aim of arresting him.

A few days later, he was placed in the custody of the military authorities in the town of Rutshuru, where he is currently held in a very basic cell pending transfer to Goma, 70 km away. In Goma he will be far from his family in a prison system where inmates depend on relatives to provide food and blankets.

King is accused of spreading false information because he reported the presence of a Mai-Mai armed group (regarded as members of the Hunde ethnic group) near Tongo, where Hutus are in the majority. The chief of the locality ordered him to retract the report but he refused, insisting that he had verified it with a local source. It was because of this refusal that his arrest was ordered by the local security committee, which is headed by the same chief.

“We call for Mapendo King’s immediate release,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “He is being held simply for doing his job as a journalist. He put out a report that he had verified and he refused to submit to political pressure.

“Regardless of the accusations, he must be tried under the media law, and certainly not by a military court. His detention in these conditions is completely illegal and is designed to impose a blackout on coverage of security issues in Rutshuru Territory.”

During a meeting yesterday, the Rutshuru Territory administrator issued an order banning the media from reporting any information involving the activities of the police, army or National Intelligence Agency (ANR). Since then, the territory’s six radio stations have ceased to broadcast any news for fear of reprisals.

“We cannot work in such conditions,” a Rutshuru journalist told RSF on condition of anonymity. “We are constantly threatened. It is on the basis of what is reported on the radio that measures can be taken to protect civilians. If we don’t report exactions, the population will suffer.”

There has been a great deal of tension in recent months in Rutshuru Territory, which is riven by inter-ethnic discord. On 3 March, Nord-Kivu governor Julien Paluku urged the media not to stir up hatred between the communities and said anyone responsible would be prosecuted. His speech was regarded as intimidatory by most journalists, who now have opted for self-censorship rather than cover this kind of story.

DRC is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2015 World Press Freedom Index.

People fleeing Rutshuru, July 2012