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Government blocks French international radio broadcasts in Bukavu

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has strongly protested after the signal of Radio France International (RFI) was cut in Bukavu, capital city of Sud-Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The communications and media minister and government spokesman, Lambert Mendé Omalanga, said on 10 June 2009 that RFI had been taken off the air one week earlier for "national security reasons".

Mendé said that the government accused RFI of "inciting soldiers to disobedience and rebellion, and causing trouble in the barracks, while our country is at war". A month earlier, the authorities accused the radio station of "throwing oil on the flames" and inciting soldiers to mutiny.

"The minister is hounding French international radio by cutting its signal in Bukavu, as it did in Bunia, capital of Ituri province in the north east," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "In taking this step, the Kinshasa government is denying the Congolese people vital access to pluralist news, especially in the east of the country. We urge the Congolese authorities to restore RFI's signal in Bukavu without delay," the organisation added.

Reporters Without Borders wrote to the minister on 6 May after the cutting of the RFI signal in Bunia was announced, saying, "You should be aware that a media presence in areas that are unstable or experiencing an armed conflict is necessary so that all the actors can have adequate access to news and information."

RFI's management told Reporters Without Borders that it condemned the closure and reaffirmed that its coverage of Congolese news was "irreproachable, completely professional and impartial."

"Our leaders do not seem to realise that by closing radio stations, they are openly demonstrating that they have things to hide," one journalist in Bukavu, who asked for anonymity, told the organisation. "In this way, the authorities force us to only listen to local radio stations, most of them already committed to their cause."

"Gagging the press at all costs clearly shows that there is a hidden agenda," said one official with a humanitarian organisation."

Kinshasa has for several years criticised the French broadcaster's coverage of Congolese news. The special correspondent for RFI in Kinshasa, Ghislaine Dupont, was expelled from the country during the presidential election campaign on 3 July 2006.
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