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JED denounces attempts to silence the media during political crisis

(JED/IFEX) - The following is an abridged translation of a 20 March 2009 JED press release:

Journaliste en Danger (JED) is concerned about attempts to silence media outlets during the current parliamentary crisis, and in particular, to stifle all reporting on the president of the National Assembly, Vital Kamerhe. Kamerhe is at the centre of the parliamentary crisis sparked by the efforts of his own party, the Alliance for the Presidential Majority (AMP) to force his resignation.

Some of the most serious cases include:

- On 19 March 2009, the television programme "Analyse", of the privately-owned station Antenne A, was disrupted 34 minutes before the start of the programme. The signal was reinstated later that evening. Asked about the service disruptions, a Téléconsult technician told JED that he had received an order to cut Antenne A's signal. Téléconsult is a private company that manages the broadcasts of almost all television stations in Kinshasa. The censured programme was scheduled to tackle the National Assembly crisis, with guests Martin Mukonkole, an opposition deputy, as well as a representative from the AMP, Benoit Yulama.

- On 16 March, the date Parliament returned from break, the public channel RNTC boycotted the opening ceremonies of the National Assembly and the Senate. Instead, the RTNC devoted its broadcast time to an attack of the president of the National Assembly.

- On the same day at around 11:00 p.m. (local time), producers at the privately-owned television station TELE 7 told JED that their signal had been cut for at least five hours, shortly after they aired an interview with the president of the National Assembly.

- On the morning of 18 March, police violently dispersed newspaper vendors on Avenue Ethiopie who had come to pick up the day's issue of the local papers. The vendors told JED that the officers accused them of distributing newspapers carrying the president of the National Assembly's opening session speech to Parliament.

When he was questioned by Radio Okapi, Kinshasa police inspector General Oleko maintained that the police actions were not politically motivated. "The police do not involve themselves in politics," he declared on the radio.

JED recalls however, that on 16 March, the day of Parliament's return, the police had sectioned off the entire perimeter of the Parliament building in order to prevent the public from attending the ceremonies. The day before the return, several human rights activists and one cameraman were arrested and detained by the Special Services of the Police for two days for organising a press conference on the parliamentary crisis.

The harassment is not exclusive to Kinshasa. On 20 March, Dominique Kalonzo, a journalist from Le Messager du Peuple radio station in Uvira, South Kivu province, was angrily reprimanded by Colonel Chiwamo of the 13th Batallion in Uvira for broadcasting, without his permission information about a peaceful march in support of Kamerhe, organised on 13 March. Chiwamo also threatened to close down the radio station. When contacted by JED, Chiwamo played down the incident, saying he had spoken to Kalonzo as a "friend". The journalist had earlier been summoned to the local headquarters of the national intelligence bureau (ANR) over the same issue.

JED calls the government's attention to these serious incidents and expresses concern that without real democratic debate, which requires that ideas and opinions be freely expressed through an open media, true democracy will remain an illusion. JED urges the government to defend freedom of expression, as guaranteed in articles 23-27 of the Constitution, and to bring to an end the attempts to stifle independent thought.

For further information on the arrests of the human rights activists and cameraman, see:

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