Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have deported five Belgian TV journalists on Saturday, reports from Kinshasa and Brussels said.
Flemish public broadcaster VRT journalist Peter Verlinden and his two colleagues, as well as two other journalists from commercial station VTM, were arrested in Kinshasa and their passports and smartphones taken away for ‘verification’.
However, the journalists would only find out later that they were ambushed.
“They said it was to finalise our visas. We believed them, but it was a trap,” Flemish-speaking reporter Verlinden, who has been reporting on the DRC for about three decades, was quoted as saying.
“We were trapped. First, we had accreditation problems on Thursday. They ordered us to come to the ministry of information under false pretexts. There, we were arrested by immigration officers. We were held there the whole day without telephone and ordered to leave the country.
“I have been arrested several times, but I’ve never been through this before. It just shows that the regime has become autocratic,” he added.
“I’ve been working in the DRC for nearly 30 years and this is the first time I’ve been expelled,” he told French radio RFI. “I can only interpret this as a sign that the country does not want people who know what is going to happen after this weekend.”
Tensions are running high in DRC as President Joseph Kabila’s constitutional two-term in office ends on Monday December 19. But so far, he has not shown any sign of going home peacefully. Talks between Kabila’s ruling majority and the radical opposition have been suspended without a deal, prompting analysts to predict an outbreak of violence nationwide next week.
To prevent the spread of a possible violence, authorities are planning to cut the internet and block SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp from 6pm on Sunday.
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger (JED), a Congolese press freedom organisation, said there were worried about the deterioration of freedom of expression and the restriction of the free flow of information in the DRC.
Photo: VRT journalist Peter Verlinden. credit: Flanders News