Since a radio presenter’s murder two weeks ago in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, people are readier to talk and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has documented a dozen cases of attacks and threats against journalists and media in connection with the Ebola epidemic. The authorities must do what is necessary to protect them, RSF said.
More than 2,000 people have been killed by the Ebola virus in the northeast of the DRC but they are not its only victims. Coverage of the measures being taken to combat the epidemic is also taking its toll on the media.
Following Papy Mahamba Mumbere’s murder in Mambasa, in the northeastern province of Ituri, on 2 November, just hours after hosting a programme about anti-Ebola measures, his radio station, Radio Communautaire de Lwemba, suspended broadcasting and its six other journalists fled to avoid the same fate.One of the journalists reported in a statement that the station’s manager had narrowly avoided two abduction attempts and that his home had been set on fire.
In recent months, RSF has registered more than a dozen cases of intimidation, including messages, anonymous phone calls and leaflets, targeting journalists and media that either broadcast messages about combatting Ebola or covered the anti-Ebola campaign.
When a Cameroonian doctor with the World Health Organization was murdered in April at a hospital in Butembo, in the northeastern province of Nord-Kivu, leaflets distributed in the town promised the “extermination” of all medical personnel combatting the epidemic and the radio stations that broadcast their messages. Kalebu Segwane, a journalist with Radio Évangélique de Butembo who received one of the leaflets, told RSF that he has changed his place of residence several times because of death threats from members of his community or from armed militias hostile to the measures taken to combat the epidemic.“We live in fear,” the manager of a community radio station in Ituri told RSF, reporting that the presenter of his station’s programme about Ebola had just received texts from a militia chief. “I don’t know if he will have the courage to present his programme this evening.”
“The murder of a journalist, the first in the DRC since 2016, must serve as a lesson,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “In view of the scale of the threats against Congolese journalists and media covering Ebola, the authorities must take whatever security measures are necessary to prevent another tragedy and must conduct an investigation to identify those responsible for the murder and the threats. We also call for the creation of a national mechanism for the protection and safety of journalists.”
At a meeting with Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi in Paris on 12 November, RSF and its Congolese partner organization, Journalist in Danger (JED), urged him to lose no time in creating a network of focal points in government agencies and ministries concerned with press freedom, as a first step in establishing a mechanism designed to ensure monitoring at the highest level and a rapid response to violations, in order to reinforce protection for journalists and to combat impunity.
During this meeting, President Tshisekedi expressed a readiness to establish a moratorium on preventive detention of journalists under the 1996 press law pending its revision. During a visit to Kinshasa from 14 to 18 October, RSF joined JED in calling on the authorities to prioritize revision of this obsolete and oppressive law, which protects those who bring lawsuits and exposes to journalists to draconian sanctions.
The DRC is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.