Radio presenter still threatened in DRC after gunmen kidnap wrong journalist

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an investigation into the abduction of a radio journalist in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo who was eventually released when his kidnappers realised they had taken the wrong radio journalist. The kidnappers, who still pose a threat to their intended target, must be identified and prosecuted, and all journalists in the region must be protected, says RSF.

Deogratias Dhessaba, a presenter and local language translator with the local branch of Radio-Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) in Bunia, the capital of the northeastern province of Ituri, was abducted by gunmen in a black car after leaving the radio station at midday on 27 April.

Dhessaba lost consciousness after being drugged, while his abductors drove through the night. They finally abandoned him about 80 km outside Bunia, in an area with many armed rebels, after realising he was not their intended target, Jean Christian Bafwa, a radio show host with the Bunia-based community radio CANDIP.

The media’s reporting is essential in a province with such a troubled social, political and security situation, so journalists should be free to work without fear of being the target of attacks. The threats hanging over Jean Christian Bafwa are very real and extremely worrying, as evidenced by his colleague's violent abduction. An investigation is needed to identify and prosecute those responsible, and measures must be taken to ensure the safety of the region’s journalists, who are constantly exposed to danger.

Sadibou Marong
Director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau

Dhessaba sent an alarming voice message to his colleague after his abduction. He reported that, before he was “thrown from the car,” his abductors had clearly named Jean Christian Bafwa. On 15 May, a member of a local political party told Bafwa that four men were driving around Bunia on motorcycles looking for him. Bafwa told RSF that he was “traumatised” and felt unsafe. “They may be planning another operation,” he said. “I’m now permanently on the lookout.”

In late 2021, Bafwa received death threats from unidentified persons who accused him of criticising the road tolls that an armed group has established in Ituri province. Nowadays, he continues to report on the tension in the province and to draw attention to collusion between certain armed groups and the authorities.

Dhessaba, who was in a critical condition after his abduction, is still hospitalised three weeks later.

The DRC is one of Africa’s most dangerous countries. The situation is particularly bad in the east of the country, especially in the provinces of Ituri, Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu, where journalists are caught in the crossfire between armed rebel groups and the government’s armed forces.

Ituri, which has been under a state of siege since May 2021 is one of the deadliest provinces. Since 2013, three journalists have been killed by the militias that terrorise Ituri. The latest was Joël Musavuli, the director of Radio Télévision Communautaire de Babombi (RTCB), who stabbed to death in his home by unidentified intruders on 14 August 2021. He hosted a programme in which he criticised both the local rebel militias and the governmental forces stationed in Ituri, and he had been receiving death threats for several weeks. The authorities must not allow a similar case to recur.

The DRC is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index.

Democratic Republic of Congo
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124/ 180
Score : 48.55
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