Reporters Without Borders condemns the action of the police in beating journalists who went to Brazzaville's Maya-Maya airport to cover the arrival of Gen. Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a newly declared presidential candidate. The violence was clearly designed to prevent pluralistic media coverage of next month's election.
About a dozen journalists were the victims of the violence, which occurred at around 7:30 p.m. on 9 February as they awaited Gen. Mokoko's arrival. A former adviser to President Denis Sassou Nguesso and currently based in Bangui as special representative of the African Union president, Mokoko announced his decision last week to run in the presidential election that was brought forward to 20 March.
According to several observers, about 40 uniformed and plainclothes policemen were brought in two buses without licence plates to the airport, where they joined approximately 30 policemen who were already there. Before Gen. Mokoko's plane landed, they fired teargas with the aim of dispersing the journalists and members of the public awaiting his arrival.
The police beat several journalists and seized or damaged their equipment. The victims included Alphonse Ndongo, Jeune Afrique's business correspondent, Makouangou Sidney of TPT television, an MCRTV journalist identified as Sathoud, and journalists with DRTV and MNTV.
Mokoko was himself enveloped in teargas and stones were thrown at him, while the relatives of arriving passengers were also affected by the teargas. The police chief, Gen. Jean-François Ndenguet, has yet to offer any explanation for his men's behaviour.
"This kind of violence is unacceptable and bodes ill for the transparency of the coming election," said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "We urge the Congolese police authorities to shed all possible light on what happened and to guarantee freely-reported coverage of political developments in the coming months."
After resigning as the president's peace and security adviser on 3 February, Mokoko immediately announced his intention to be a candidate in next month's presidential election, which was originally scheduled for July.
Mokoko criticized last October's referendum on a constitutional amendment that allows Sassou Nguesso to run for another term as president, a position he has held for more than 30 years. The Internet and Radio France Internationale's signal were disconnected throughout the country on the day of the referendum.
The Republic of Congo is ranked 107th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.