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RFI broadcasts suspended over election coverage

UPDATE: IFJ condemns violence against journalists during electoral period (IFJ, 26 April 2012)

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, January 4, 2012 - Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo shut down broadcasts of the French government-funded Radio France Internationale over its coverage of the aftermath of the November 2011 presidential elections, news reports said.

On Monday, Communications Minister Lambert Mende said the Council of Ministers had ordered the "temporary" measure of switching off RFI's six FM broadcast frequencies until the Congolese Broadcasting and Communications Superior Council, the new state-run media regulatory agency, had issued a decision.

The run-up to the presidential elections saw anti-press violence, including arson attacks, against journalists and media outlets supportive of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, according to CPJ research. On November 28, incumbent President Joseph Kabila defeated Tshisekedi although he took less than 50 percent of the votes in the election, which was marred by deadly violence and allegations of irregularities, news reports said. Security forces cracked down on subsequent protests by pro-opposition supporters, but Tshisekedi declared himself president-elect and staged a swearing-in ceremony and a new year's national address, according to news reports. RFI reported on both of these events.

"The government did not at all appreciate the way RFI attempts to trivialize the anti-constitutional comedy of Tshisekedi," Mende told Agence France-Press. RFI Deputy Director Geneviève Goëtzinger declined to comment when contacted by CPJ.

"This decision is part of a pattern of closures to punish Radio France Internationale whenever it reports independently on political news in the DRC," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "We call on the Congolese media regulatory agency to break with this pattern of political censorship and reverse the decision immediately."

RFI is the most popular news station in the DRC, according to CPJ research. On December 23, the station's broadcasts were disrupted after it aired information about Tshisekedi's staged swearing-in, AFP reported. The government also suspended RFI for more than a year through 2009 and 2010 over its coverage of the military, and in 2006, authorities expelled RFI journalist Ghislaine Dupont, according to CPJ research.
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