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One month on, soldiers' occupation of community radio station in Luebo continues

(JED/IFEX) - Soldiers acting on the orders of Oscar Malongi, Kasaï district commissioner, have occupied the premises of the community radio station ODL since 17 March 2007. They brutally stopped all broadcasts and chased away all staff members found on site. For the last month, they have occupied the premises and forbidden any access to them.

"They came at around 8:30 p.m. and proceeded to shut down the radio station, pure and simple. I fear that they have looted everything and vandalised our equipment," a representative of the station told JED by phone on 18 April. According to this source, the decision to storm and occupy the station was reportedly taken at the end of a local security meeting chaired by Malongi, who accuses the radio station of broadcasting "insulting" remarks and "incitement to hatred" by Bafuafua Kalala, the elected member of the provincial parliament, toward local authorities.

Reached by telephone by JED, Kalala rejected the accusations and denounced "the state of chaos in Luebo." "If someone is to be blamed, it is me and not the radio station, which is a gift to the population. Why do they want to prevent a member of parliament from expressing himself?" he asked. He then explained that after the media regulatory agency (Haute Autorité des Médias, HAM) heard from him and listened to recordings of his remarks, the agency ordered the re-opening of ODL radio as of 22 March 2007. This decision has not yet been carried out.

JED denounces the methods from another age and unworthy of a state based on the rule of law used by the local authorities who govern as absolute masters in this part of the country, forbidding any democratic expression and muzzling independent media.

JED asks the government of Antoine Gizenga, through the intervention of the interior minister, to react to this serious press freedom violation and to order immediately the soldiers' departure and ODL radio's re-opening. If by chance the radio equipment was vandalised or looted, JED asks the government to pay for damages caused by representatives of the state against private property.

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