Nicolas Synthe Awacang’o, the editor in chief of Radio Canal Révélation, a popular radio station in Bunia, the capital of the eastern province of Ituri, and Freddy Upar, one of its presenters, have received a total of 14 phone calls and 13 texts from the rebel militia since 8 January in which they are threatened and accused of siding with the army.
The militia, called the Patriotic and Integrationist Force of Congo (FPIC), criticizes Awacang’o for reporting its attempted incursion into Bunia. The messages he receives tell him he is banned from entering some of the city’s districts. In one of the messages, the rebels said they know the colour of his motorcycle and where he lives.
Upar has been getting threats ever since he quoted an army spokesperson’s statement about clashes between the army and the FPIC during the news programme he hosts nearly every morning. “They don’t understand the journalist’s role and say they’re going to kill me as soon as they enter Bunia,” Upar told RSF. “I’m being very careful and rarely go out.”
“These threats illustrate the great dangers to which Congolese journalists are exposed and the risks they must take to provide reliable, balanced news coverage,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “It’s unacceptable that, although they make a very important contribution to society, nothing is done to protect them. The authorities should not wait until there have been more victims before taking decisive measures, such as the dedicated mechanism for protecting and securing journalists proposed by RSF and its partner JED."
Radio Canal Révélation already lost one of its journalists to violence in 2013, when Guylain Chandjaro, a Swahili-language reporter, disappeared and was found dead 12 days later.
Journalists have been increasingly targeted in Ituri province ever since armed hostilities resumed there. The presence of unofficial armed militias and the fact that many of them are anonymous complicate their identification and therefore the communication ideally desired by their targets as an alternative to violence.
The methods of the different armed groups are nonetheless similar. RSF described the Mai-Mai militia’s repeated press freedom violations in a press release on 21 January. Since 2019, RSF has registered nine cases of threats and four cases of violence by the Mai-Mai, including a murder and an enforced disappearance.
The DRC is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.