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Radio stations closed in eastern DRC, others threatened

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the closure or threatened closure of several radio stations in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past few days on bureaucratic grounds. RSF believes the aim is to put pressure on the media and prevent hostile reactions to the now unavoidable postponement of the presidential election initially planned in October 2016 .


In the latest case, radio stations in the Baraka region of the eastern province of Sud-Kivu were notified on 8 June that they will be closed if they do not pay 1,500 US dollars for a “broadcast permit.” This is a large sum for what are mainly community radio stations and most will be unable to pay. The head of the department of posts and telecommunications in the city of Baraka said the order came from the central administration and is meant to be applied throughout the country.

In Bukavu, the capital of Sud-Kivu province, Radio Iriba FM was forcibly closed on 2 June on the orders of the provincial tax department on the grounds that it had not paid all its taxes. The station’s director, Donat Musema, is contesting the order and says he has paid most of his taxes, unlike other radio stations in Bukavu that are still operating. He regards its closure as a political reprisal for the fact that he sometimes interviews opposition representatives. Musema has been the target of frequent harassment and even death threats, for which a government employee was convicted in March.

Meanwhile, Radio Paon, a community radio station in Munguredjipa, in the neighbouring eastern province of Nord-Kivu, is the victim of an act of censorship by soldiers and members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), who arrested the station’s manager, Aimé Kibendelwa, on 4 June and confiscated its transmitter. Kibendelwa was released on 7 June after MONUSCO, the United Nations mission in the DRC, intervened but the ANR is refusing to return the transmitter and is demanding 500 US dollars for it.

“The authorities have acted without reference to the courts in these three cases,” RSF said. “This is a complete violation of the DRC’s law, which says that only a prosecutor has the power to close a media outlet. In the currently very tense political situation, it is vital that such politically-motivated intimidation of the media should stop, so that that they are free to do their job of providing news and information.”

In a separate development, mobile phone companies have announced an increase in Internet service tariffs ranging from 35 to 500 percent, causing panic in the journalistic community, which largely relies on mobile Internet services to transmit and receive information. Tariff hikes on this scale would also limit the public’s ability to follow the news online, as most Congolese lack fixed-line Internet connections at home. The deputy minister responsible for Internet matters said he would examine the announced hikes, which seem to have been coordinated and, if so, would violate the rules on competition.

The DRC is ranked 152nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Jimirasire

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