(By Rachel Levy, CPJ Google Fellow). Tensions are rising in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after a government official announced recently that he would support a change in the constitution to allow President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, to run for a third term in 2016.
Under the current constitution, Kabila may serve a maximum of two five-year terms.
Hundreds of Congolese demonstrators protested last week in the capital of Kinshasa against attempts to change the constitution, according to news reports.
The revision could be subject to a national referendum during next year’s municipal and local elections, said Evariste Boshab, the general-secretary of the pro-Kabila People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, who announced his support.
Journalists and observers expect conditions to worsen for the media as elections approach. Already journalists in the DRC face censorship, threats, and violence from sources ranging from the Congolese police, army, information services, and the government, according to CPJ research.
“Elections are always seen as a time when power can shift, and this makes leaders very insecure–the longer they’ve been in power, the more insecure,” Anjan Sundaram, who reported in the DRC for about eight years, told CPJ in an email.
Freedom for Journalist (FFJ), a Kinshasa-based press freedom organization, told CPJ in an email that it expected journalists to be “the target of diverse attacks (imprisonment, harassment, threats, physical aggressions, assassinations)” as they were in the 2011 elections, which were marred by violence and allegations of fraud.
Broadcasting political debates can result in authorities accusing journalists of calling for violence, Nick Elebe, DRC country manager for the Open Society Institute for Southern Africa, told CPJ.
“These are the kind of things that journalists are asking opposition leaders: if [President] Kabila changes [the constitution], what will you do? And they say, ‘we will go out to the streets, we will protest,'” Elebe said.
“They can assimilate that speech as a call to violence. They can say you are calling on people to go to the street.”
Photo: Radio Netherlands/AFP