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JED fears new restrictions on foreign media in wake of military operation will impede freedom of expression

(JED/IFEX) - JED strongly condemns the screening ban imposed on the documentary film "Katanga Business" and the questioning of its Belgian filmmaker, Thierry Michel, by the national intelligence agency (ANR). The ban was announced on 20 July 2009 in Kinsangani, the capital of Tshopo province, in north-eastern DRC.

"Katanga Business" is the most recent documentary made by the Belgian filmmaker on the subject of mining in the mineral-rich province of Katanga, in south-eastern DRC. One of the main characters in the film is the province's governor, Moïse Katumbi, a wealthy businessman who was elected to both the provincial and national assemblies in landslide victories before being elected governor.

A long-anticipated screening of the film in Kisangani at the campus of the Université de Kisangani was cancelled at the last minute when the university's administration claimed that the documentary did not fit with the school's curriculum. The same evening, a screening at the Ngoma cultural centre was abruptly halted 30 minutes into the film by Kisangani's mayor, despite the fact that the film had been shown the previous night to a group of local politicians without incident.

Speaking to JED from Brussels, Thierry Michel stated that the film had been screened in DRC more than twenty times, in seven cities across four provinces. This tour was meant to breathe new life into the film industry in DRC just as his film "Congo River" had done three years earlier.

JED fails to understand why this documentary, which traces the highs and lows of the Katanga mining industry, was so suddenly barred to the public in Kisangani yet has been screened in other cities in the country such as Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. JED believes that these actions are politically motivated and must not go unchecked.

Furthermore, JED notes that, in addition to this violation of the public's right to information, since the start of the Kimia 2 military operation against the Rwandan FDLR rebels, the government has severely restricted the working conditions of foreign journalists in the DRC, particularly in the eastern provinces. In July 2009, a Belgian journalist was denied a visa simply for refusing to indicate the names of all the individuals he intended to interview in the DRC.

Moreover, a crew from the Belgian (Flemmish) television station VRT had its accreditation, which was signed by the secretary-general of Ministry of Communication and Media, rejected by security services in eastern DRC; the television crew had to wait until another accreditation was signed by the minister of Communications and the Media in person. Under the new accreditation for foreign journalists (which costs US$250 to obtain), a new regulation, drawn from the military penal code, prohibits "any harmful expression directed at the officers, non-commissioned officers or rank and file, without indicating the individual." Those working under the new accreditation must also "abstain from inciting members of the armed forces to commit acts contrary to their military duties or to provide false information and to demobilise the army." A spokesperson from the Ministry of Communication and Media even evoked the possibility of ANR or army personnel accompanying journalists in their work.

JED believes that under these new regulations the accreditation of foreign journalists will no longer be simply an administrative task, rather it will become a political act which will have major implications for journalists' freedom to research, treat and broadcast information. JED urges the government to find a balance between security and national defense needs and the legitimate right of the public to be informed by diverse sources.

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