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Two journalists beaten on order of government minister

(JED/IFEX) - The following is an abridged open letter from JED to Congolese Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga:

Your Excellency, Mr. Prime Minister,

Re: Beating of two journalists by government minister

JED, an independent and non-partisan organisation for the defence and promotion of press freedom in the DR Congo and the alert network of the Central African Media Organisation (Organisation des Médias d'Afrique Centrale, OMAC), strongly protests the 22 October 2007 beating of two journalists from the privately-owned television station Horizon 33 by police officers on the express orders of Sylvain Ngabu, minister of state for higher education.

According to information obtained by JED, Horizon 33 journalist Heustache Namunanika and cameraman Didier Lofumbwa interviewed Ngabu about his recent decision to suspend Professor Dieudonné Kalindye, interim rector of the CIPEP Open University. After getting Ngabu's point of view, the two journalists heard from Professor Kalindye, who denounced the "arbitrary measure."

After the broadcast of this item, produced in accordance with the professional norms of journalism, Ngabu, through his press attaché, invited the two journalists to his office. The minister exploded in anger at the two journalists for having allowed Kalindye to speak. Namunanika then explained to the minister that, since there was a difference of opinion, it was his professional duty to present both sides of the story. He added that if the minister found fault with the professor's statements, he would allow him to exercise his right of reply. Furious, the minister had the police officers who guard him come into his office and ordered them to "correct" the two journalists.

In front of the minister, seated on his office chair, the two journalists were severely beaten before being thrown, like thugs, out of the ministry's premises. JED noted that the two journalists had torn clothes and the cameraman had a bruised right eye and injuries to his right knee and chest.

You will agree with JED, Mr. Prime Minister, that such behaviour by the head of a state ministry is unacceptable and not worthy of a member of a government born of the first free and transparent elections in more than 40 years, for which people across the Congo sometimes paid a heavy price. Ngabu's behaviour indicates a lack of consideration not only for human life, but also for journalists' work. JED will hold the minister of state accountable should any further harm befall the journalists.

Mr. Prime Minister, your minister of state, who is also a member of your political party, the Unified Lumumbist Party (Parti Lumumbiste Unifié, PALU), is guilty of the following reprehensible acts:
- assault and injury;
- inciting the police to commit an illegal act;
- abusive use of the guards provided for his security;
- violation of the right of journalists to seek and distribute news freely and independently.

With respect, Mr. Prime Minister, at a time when Minister Ngabu is preparing to go represent our country at the General Assembly of UNESCO, JED asks you to demonstrate to the world through strong action that your government's commitments to press freedom in DR Congo are more than simple rhetoric. Indeed, UNESCO, to which Ngabu is travelling, has among other tasks that of promoting, throughout all its member states, the availability of diverse, independent and professional news.

Sincerely,

Tshivis Tshivuadi
Secretary-General

D. M'Baya Tshimanga
President

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