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Minister carries out threat to shut down French station's broadcasts throughout the country

(JED/RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organisation in Democratic Republic of Congo, strongly condemn the government's shutdown of local FM retransmission of the French public radio station Radio France Internationale (RFI) throughout the country since 26 July 2009. The two organisations urge the authorities to rescind the ban.

"This measure confirms that certain government officials have it in for RFI and makes us fear more authoritarian excesses," Journalist in Danger president Donat M'Baya Tshimanga said. "The government has taken a very disturbing decision," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard added. "By shutting down RFI, it has deprived half of the Congolese population of the access it needs to independent news."

Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger point out that, instead of silencing RFI, the Congolese authorities could use their right of reply whenever they see fit.

JED has confirmed from various sources that RFI's broadcasts on the FM waveband have been cut since 26 July in Kinshasa (the country's capital), Lubumbashi (the capital of the southern province of Katanga) Kisangani (the capital of the northeastern province of Orientale) and Matadi (the capital of the western province of Bas-Congo).

On 27 July, Communications Minister Lambert Mendé Omalanga confirmed to Reporters Without Borders by telephone that all local retransmission of RFI had been suspended. "I am not in a position to make a public statement today," he said, "We will hold a news conference tomorrow in Kinshasa to explain why we had to take this grave decision." He invited JED to attend the news conference at 1 p.m. (local time) on 28 July in Kinshasa's Grand Hotel.

RFI said the government's reason for the shutdown was the broadcasting of information explaining why certain former rebel units had decided to desert from the Congolese army, into which they had recently been incorporated. RFI pointed out that the information had been provided by the United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) at a news conference on 22 July.

RFI's signal in Bukavu (the capital of the eastern province of Sud-Kivu) has been cut since 10 June, when the communications minister threatened to extend the measure to the rest of the country. "We accuse RFI of trying to incite soldiers to disobey their superiors and to revolt, and of stirring up problems in the barracks while the country is at war," he said at the time.

Reporters Without Borders has received complaints from residents in Kivu since the shutdown there. Eric Muvomo, the head of a human rights group based in Luvungi, near Bukavu, said: "the population of the Ruzizi-Sud-Kivu plains is not happy with this draconian measure by the minister, Lambert Mendé," he said. "The public needs to be informed about the army's situation in the province and about military operations."

A local radio station manager told Reporters Without Borders: "What will they do with the small local stations? The RFI shutdown sends a strong signal. It means the authorities are prepared to do anything, even to close all the other media."

A human rights activist said: "We are definitely missing RFI a great deal in Bukavu. We find it hard to accept the shutdown, which was decided suddenly and without any consultation with the population."
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