The governments of the United States, France and Belgium, and the International Organisation for Francophonie (IOF) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have slammed the DR Congo government for blocking the signals of Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Radio Okapi, the United Nations-funded station, and have called the act an attitude that goes against freedom of expression and the democratic principles.
If RFI is not emitting at all, the signal of Radio Okapi remains scrambled in this troubled Central African vast nation since Saturday 5 November, the day opposition veteran leader Etienne Tshisekedi was due to address thousands of his supporters at a rally in the capital Kinshasa.
The gathering was eventually broken up by heavily armed cops who used tear gas at opposition supporters, made a few arrests, beat people up and surrounded Tshisekedi’s house to block him from going out.
“I’m worried about what is happening at the moment in the DRC… the decision to block these stations’ signals is an unacceptable act and should be avoided at all costs in the name of freedom of expression and freedom of the media,” OIF S-G Michaelle Jean told the UN Security Council this week.
Romain Nadal, spokesperson for France’s foreign affairs ministry, echoed Jean’s sentiments. Nadal called the government of Joseph Kabila’s move to block RFI and scramble Radio Okapi unacceptable and provocative, saying that France was extremely worried as decisions such as these had the potential of plunging the country into tensions and violence.
The US Embassy in Kinshasa issued a statement on Monday, saying the decision violates the principles of press freedom in the DRC, and deprives the Congolese people of access to information.
The move is incompatible with democratic principles, the statement said.
The government of Belgium regretted the decision, calling on the DRC authorities to reconsider, as the two radio stations contributed significantly to the diversity of information and opinions in the country.
IFJ President Philippe Leruth said he was very worried about the decision, while Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), a Congolese human rights group, described the blockage as an inadmissible attack on freedom of the press in the country.
UN mission in DRC spokesperson Antoine-Charles Bambara told AFP that the UN was very disappointed with what has happened to Radio Okapi and RFI.
President Kabila’s constitutional two-term in office is due to come to an end on December 19, but the UN and independent analysts say his refusal to step down could plunge the country into an extreme cycle of violence.
Government spokesperson Lambert Mende has so far refused to comment.
(AFP, RFI, Daily Mail Online, Sifa News)
Photo: DRC President Joseph Kabila