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Two radio journalists suspended for one month

(JED/IFEX) - JED has voiced strong opposition to the suspension of two radio journalists by the provincial sections of the Congolese National Press Union (UNPC), the Congolese Media Observatory (OMEC) and the High Authority on Media (HAM - the broadcast regulator), on the orders of the interim governor of Équateur province, Jean Claude Baende.

According to JED sources, Serge Mwamba and Fils Baende, editor in chief and news desk editor, respectively, at Esukafaya radio, received notice of their one-month suspension on 11 September 2009 following a joint decision by the OMEC, the UNPC and the HAM.

Esukafaya is a privately-owned radio station based in Mbandaka, the capital of Équateur province, in northern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The journalists are accused of airing "harmful and hateful" remarks in reference to Governor Baende during a 9 September broadcast.
The remarks were made by opposition Member of Parliament Charles Bofassa Djema – who is also the owner of the radio station – during a telephone interview for the programme "Political Platform", in which he accused the governor of mismanagement and embezzling public funds earmarked for municipal roadways in the province.

The next day, security service agents and police officers began looking for the journalists. Unable to find them, the governor summoned a provincial "security" committee - consisting of representatives from OMEC, UNPC and HAM - to his office on 10 September. It was during this meeting that a decision was taken to suspend the journalists.

Mwamba dismissed the allegations against himself and his colleague but lamented the fact that they had never been summoned by any of the organisations to defend their case.

Both journalists claim to have received threatening phone messages since the incident, including one reminding them of the end met by Serge Maheshe and Didace Namujimbo, two Radio Okapi journalists killed in Bukavu in 2007 and 2008.

JED condemns the suspension of the two journalists as well as the threats made against them. JED notes with particular concern that the representative of the UNPC - the union responsible for defending journalists - who signed his name to the two journalists' suspension notice is reported to also be a press office for Governor Baende, a disturbing conflict of interest.

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