Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa) | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)

Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

81

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

32

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

24

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press and even provides for freedom of information, but these rights are restricted in practice by President Joseph Kabila’s government and various nonstate actors, including an insurgent movement led by the Rwanda-backed commander Laurent Nkunda. Officials used an array of prohibitive licensing regulations, criminal libel laws, and legal provisions allowing “preventive detention” without due process to restrict free speech and suppress political criticism. In 2007, at least three local journalists were convicted on criminal defamation charges, for which truth is no defense, for articles addressing public-sector corruption. Rigobert Kwakala Kash, editor of the private weekly newspaper Le Moniteur, was sentenced shortly after Kabila resumed office in January to 11 months in prison for allegedly libeling the transitional governor of the western province of Bas-Congo. Kash received this conviction despite the fact that Le Moniteur had itself been suspended for six months only a day before his arrest for the same offense. Fortunately, Kash was released after serving only 35 days of his sentence. Two other journalists went into hiding to avoid arrests for similar convictions. In October, Information Minister Toussaint Tshilombo banned 22 local private television stations and 16 radio stations for alleged noncompliance with national media laws. While most were allowed to resume broadcasting by year’s end, the ban came down particularly hard on media outlets associated with the former rebel leader and Kabila’s rival in the 2006 presidential election, Jean-Pierre Bemba. Media outlets also remained subject to regulation by the High Authority on Media (HAM), a public agency created under the 2002 peace accord that formally ended the civil war within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Some HAM decisions have appeared politically motivated, such as the May closure of the private broadcaster Radio Television Debout Kasai for allegedly defaming the local governor.

Multiparty presidential elections were held in 2006 for the first time since independence from Belgium in 1960. Kabila, who had led the country’s transitional government since 2002, won in an October runoff against Bemba. Subsequent violent clashes between government soldiers and fighters loyal to Bemba led to reprisals against media outlets linked to Bemba and journalists who had covered the violence; Bemba went into exile in April 2007 and was charged in absentia with high treason. In March, two television stations and one radio station owned by Bemba were forced to close following a raid by government security forces.

Local journalists were vulnerable to violent assault, harassment, and arbitrary imprisonment; during the year, 2 journalists were killed, 10 served time in jail, and as many as 54 were questioned by security forces, according to Reporters Sans Frontieres. The International Federation of Journalists ranks DRC as the second most dangerous place for journalists to operate in Africa after Somalia. The most serious of these incidents included the June murder of Serge Maheshe Kasole, a journalist with the internationally funded Radio Okapi network, in the eastern city of Bukavu. Two soldiers and two of Kasole’s friends were convicted of the murder and sentenced to death despite a complete lack of evidence against them, and all four were still in jail and awaiting appeal at year’s end. In August, freelance photojournalist Patrick Kikuku Wilungula was killed by gunmen in the eastern city of Goma. The peaceful march of over 100 journalists protesting Kikuku’s murder was violently suppressed by the deployment of Rapid Intervention Police officers before the journalists could get to the Interior Ministry to make an official statement. While military tribunals convicted several individuals in 2007 in connection with the 2005 murder of investigative journalist Franck Ngyke Kangundu and his wife and the 2006 murder of journalist Louis Bapuwa Mwamba, local press freedom watchdog Journaliste en Danger (JED) criticized the official investigations and reported that these cases remained far from resolved.

Numerous other journalists were also the victims of nonfatal attacks similar to the beating of Faustin Bela Mako, editor of the small private paper, Congo News, who was attacked by unknown assailants in March for writing an article in support of an opposition political party. JED staff themselves received death threats during the year, forcing secretary general Tshivis Tshivuadi and president Donat M’baya Tshimanga to go into hiding temporarily in August. Separately, 15 journalists were dismissed without warning from the private television station Global TV after demanding the payment of nine months of arrears on their salaries.

The DRC boasts hundreds of private newspapers, radio channels, and television stations. While not always objective, the private media are often highly critical of the government. As illiteracy rates are high and few newspapers circulate outside of urban centers, the majority of the population relies on radio broadcasts for news. In order to operate legally in DRC, a media outlet must obtain a license and authorization for technical operations from the Ministry of the Post, Telephones, and Telecommunication as well as a separate authorization to open from the Ministry of Information, Press, and National Communication. The state operates two radio stations as well as a television station and an official press agency. Journalists in all major media outlets are usually poorly paid and lack sufficient training, leaving them vulnerable to bribery and political manipulation. Together with the Swiss-funded Fondation Hirondelle, the UN mission in the DRC operates an independent countrywide radio network, Radio Okapi, which has set new standards for reporting and media objectivity in a volatile political scene. There are no reports that the government restricts internet usage or monitors e-mail, although access was limited to less than half of one percent of the population, mainly in urban centers.