RSF urges DRC presidential candidates to give ten press freedom undertakings
In an appeal launched on 19 October, two months before the Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asks the more than 20 declared candidates to give ten public undertakings to support press freedom and promote the safety of journalists. As a priority, RSF asks them to publicly support dropping charges against arbitrarily detained journalists including Stanis Bujakera.
As well as a pledge to seek the withdrawal of charges and the immediate release of Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, held since 8 September 2023, and all other arbitrarily detained journalists, RSF’s priorities are commitments to perpetuate the national mechanism for protecting journalists, overhaul legislation regulating journalism, and combat impunity for those responsible for the murders of journalists.
Attacked, intimidated and arbitrarily arrested, Congolese journalists are under intense pressure from all sides. This must change. We appeal to candidates to publicly undertake to put press freedom, journalists’ safety and the public’s right to reliable news and information at the heart of their commitments and programmes. We urge them to adopt the ten commitments to press freedom that we are proposing. And, above all, to publicly support dropping charges against Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala and to call for his release and the release of all journalists who are in prison just for doing their job.
By signing the appeal, the candidates pledge to combat the impunity currently enjoyed by those responsible for the murders of journalists, in an environment of repeated violence against media professionals in the DRC.
In the past four years, RSF has registered 290 cases of threats and violence against journalists. The victims include three journalists murdered in the east of the country: Joël Musavuli, the director of Radio Télévision Communautaire de Babombi (RTCB), in Ituri province in 2021; Héritier Magayane, a journalist with Radio-Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) in Nord-Kivu province in 2021; and Radio Communautaire de Lwemba presenter Papy Mahamba Mumbere in Ituri province in 2019.
The dangers to which media professionals are exposed in the DRC also include enforced disappearance. Two journalists have gone missing in Nord-Kivu province in recent years: Bwira Bwalitse, the director of Radio Communautaire de Bakumbule (RCBA), who has been missing since June 2020, and Byamungu Garubanda, the director of Voix de Mikeno, missing since February 2023.
RSF calls on the candidates to establish a moratorium on arrests of journalists in connection with their work, and to accompany the moratorium with concrete measures to raise awareness throughout the security forces and to train them in the protection of journalists and respect for press freedom.
No fewer than 123 arbitrary arrests of journalists were registered from June 2020 to September 2023, including that of Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, the correspondent of the French news weekly Jeune Afrique and British news agency Reuters, and deputy editor of the Congolese news site Actualité.cd, who is still detained and whose trial is due to resume on 20 October.
After visiting this well-known journalist in prison, RSF reiterates its call for his release and asks candidates to denounce his arbitrary detention as well as that of freelancer Patrick Lola and E Radio reporter Christian Bofaya, who have been held since January 2022, and Diego Kayiba, who has been held since April 2023.
RSF also calls on candidates to undertake to refrain from putting any pressure on journalists; to turn the Congolese national radio and TV broadcaster RTNC into a real public service media open to all currents of opinion; to promote lasting economic support for the media; to use the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) standard as an eligibility criteria for receiving state support for general interest media; and to encourage media independence and professionalisation.
The DRC is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index.
10 SOLEMN COMMITMENTS BY OFFICIAL CANDIDATES to support press freedom and journalists’ safety
As a presidential candidate in the election to be held on 20 December 2023, I give the Democratic Republic of Congo’s voters a solemn undertaking to:
1. Publicly support dropping charges against Stanis BUJAKERA TSHIAMALA and other arbitrarily detained journalists, and to call for their immediate release ;
2. Establish a moratorium on arrests of journalists in connection with their work, and to accompany the moratorium with concrete measures to raise awareness throughout the security forces and to train them in the protection of journalists (especially when they are covering elections) and in respect for press freedom ;
3. Combat impunity for those responsible for the murders of journalists by systematically investigating these murders and by relaunching investigations into past murders ;
4. Ensure that the national mechanism for protecting journalists is sustainable and effective and, to this end, ensure that it is transparent, that it has its own budget voted by Parliament, that its composition continues to be inclusive, and that it functions in a collaborative manner ;
5. Refrain from putting any pressure on journalists and systematically and publicly condemn smears and verbal attacks against them by politicians, especially those who are members of my own party or administration ;
6. Continue the reform of legislation affecting the media by abolishing prison sentences for press offences, by improving Law 23/009 on press freedom (after consulting the media and civil society), and by allowing journalists working for foreign media to be accredited free of charge ;
7. Turn the Congolese national radio and TV broadcaster RTNC into a real public service media open to all currents of opinion ;
8. Promote lasting economic support for the media by allocating assistance more transparently, and by abolishing taxes and dues payable to the Ministry of Communication and ANR ;
9. Use the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) standard as an eligibility criteria for receiving state support for general interest media ;
10. Encourage media independence and professionalisation by strengthening the powers of the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (CSAC) and by creating a self-regulatory body, the National Council for Communication and Media.
Signed in Kinshasa
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