Elements of the Congolese army (FARDC) stand accused of storming Radio Tujenge Kabambare, a community radio station in the east of the country, and vandalising its studios and confiscating equipment, and detaining its staff, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said last night, citing the station’s director and the Congolese press freedom group OLPA.
The equipment includes computers, generators, solar panels, mobile phones, and recorders. The soldiers detained the head of programmes, Senghor Fundi Kamulete, and technician Shabani Bin Shabani for a few hours in a military camp, where they were beaten with rifle butts, CPJ said, quoting OLPA.
Fundi and Shabani are reportedly hospitalised and being treated for injuries to the head, chest and arms, according to the station’s director Gekalom Kalonda Mukelenge. He said another group of soldiers raided his home, which is near the station, and accused him of hiding a member of the M23 rebel group. The soldiers assaulted members of his family and ransacked the house, he said.
The reason behind the attacks was not immediately clear. Mukelenge could not point to any sensitive recent stories, but said the station has in the past aired reports critical of the military, including interviews with local citizens accusing soldiers of extortion at arbitrary checkpoints.
“We condemn the attack on Radio Tujenge Kabambare and its journalists, who have a right to cover the military’s activities without obstruction or intimidation,” CPJ Africa advocacy coordinator Mohamed Keita said in a statement.
“We call on Congolese authorities to hold their soldiers fully accountable under the law.”
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Omalanga Mende told CPJ he received information about the attacks today and that an investigation was under way. “I have addressed an urgent note to my colleague, the minister of defence,” Mende said. “Tomorrow, I will have an idea of measures to take. This is not acceptable. The army is not tasked with leading police operations. We will shed light on this,” he said.
But in a country where the rule of law, respect for human rights and freedom of expression, and media liberties are almost non-existent, it remains unclear under which law the soldiers, who mostly obey their superiors’ orders, are going to be held accountable for.
DRC has one of the most ill-disciplined and rogue armies in the world, according to analysts. The army, whose constitutional duty is to protect civilians and their property, have often been accused of unnecessarily harassing, assaulting and detaining civilians and looting their property.
Many troops in the eastern part of the country have also been accused of gang-raping women and underage girls. Many soldiers, unpaid for several months and under the influence of drugs and alcohol, usually set up unauthorised checkpoints to demand money and food for civilians and drivers.