Radio France Internationale’s local retransmission signal was disconnected at 6 a.m. on 20 October 2015 in the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) while Internet and SMS services went down throughout the country.
All this happened just as the opposition was preparing to hold a major demonstration against next Sunday’s referendum on a controversial constitutional amendment that would allow President Denis Sassou Nguesso to run for a third term.
Was it just a coincidence?
At least four demonstrators were killed when the police used force to disperse the protest.
The communication minister was quoted on the RFI website as saying the cut in its signal was due to “maintenance” on the RFI transmitter and that other transmitters were affected. The loss in mobile phone services was said to be due to “overload.”
“It is hard to believe that these cuts happened by chance on the same day as a demonstration that was clearly feared by the Congolese government, whose media control methods are notorious,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.
“It would be an incredible coincidence if RFI and the Internet just happened to go down at the same time, especially given the growing importance of social networks in circulating news in real time. The competent authorities must do everything possible to restore the RFI signal as soon as the ‘maintenance’ is completed, and to restore Internet connections.”
A Brazzaville journalist said that, while all the pro-government radio and TV stations had no broadcasting problems, it was impossible for independent journalists “to send a photo or report what is going on.”
For months, privately-owned media critical of the government have been the target of administrative closures or withdrawals of their operating licence. And of late, the police have taken to questioning or arresting people as soon as a few of them gather in the street. This has made it very difficult for journalists to report and conduct interviews in public.