- Congolese members of the press are protesting as journalists from the private press recently were roughed up during public rally in Kinshasa. Several of the officially accredited journalists had received death threats by Kinshasa government troops.
In a 19 May letter to Mulegwa Zihindula, a spokesperson for President Joseph Kabila, the Kinshasa group Journaliste en danger (JED) protested the harassment and humiliation suffered by journalists during a public rally held along Kinshasa's Triomphal Boulevard on 17 May.
The Congolese media freedom organisation had been particularly shocked by these incidents since the targeted journalists were officially accredited by the office of the president to cover the march commemorating the Kabila regime's sixth year in power.
According to 19 May press reports, Kadima Baruani, a journalist and cameraman with the private television station Télé Kin Malebo (TKM), was prevented from filming the march. Soldiers claiming to be from the Intelligence Services confiscated his camera and press card.
The soldiers accused Mr Baruani of filming too close to President Kabila, who led the day's ceremonies. The journalist's equipment had still not been returned to him by yesterday afternoon, JED and the Canadian group IFEX reports.
In addition, a group of journalists from the private press were also manhandled during the 17 May rally, JED alleges. "They were beaten up and prevented from carrying out their work on the pretext that they did not have the official badges necessary to cover the rally."
The Kinshasa media organisation noted that contrary to their colleagues from public media outlets, journalists from the private press are often victims of violent attacks and discrimination at official events, even when they are in possession of the required accreditation.
JED remarked that these incidents "constitute serious violations of press freedom and of the public's right to information. Yet, these rights are guaranteed under the new constitution recently signed by President Kabila."
JED urged presidential spokesman Mulegwa Zihindula - who oversees journalists' accreditation with the presidency - to make every effort to identify and punish those responsible for these violent incidents. That would however become the first time during Mr Kabila's regime.
The organisation further asked Mr Zihindula to "take the necessary measures to guarantee the safety of journalists, so that they can work without fear of harassment." Finally, JED asked the presidential spokesman to see to it that TKM's confiscated equipment is returned promptly.
According to the 2002 annual report of the Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF), "freedom of expression does not exist" in Congo Kinshasa - neither in government or rebel-held territories. Despite some improvement at the end of 2001, "attacks on press freedom in the areas under government control are still frequent, and journalists are still threatened in the areas held by rebel movements."
Press freedom was reported to be specially threatened in the areas under control of the various rebel movements at war against the Kinshasa government.
The new constitution recently signed by President Kabila however provided for some hope regarding the difficult press freedom situation in Congo Kinshasa. President Kabila has promised democratisation and respect of human rights - including the freedom of the press - but has so far neglected to live up to his promises.
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