Reporters Without Borders (RSF) joins its Congolese partner organization, Journalist in Danger (JED), in condemning the repeated and unacceptable harassment of journalists in Sankuru province, in the centre of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
François Lendo, the manager of local Radio Losanganya, was about fly from Lodja, a city in Sankuru province, on 15 September to attend a meeting of the Congolese journalists' union but landed in prison instead after being arrested at Lodja airport.
Lendo, who is still being held, was arrested on a complaint brought against him by Joseph-Stéphane Mukumadi, who is holding onto the post of Sankuru governor although the provincial assembly voted to remove him from this position and no longer regards him as legitimate.
The complaint, which RSF has seen, accuses Lendo of insulting the governor by claiming on the air that he was waging "a terror campaign" and had arrested and tortured those who "tried to intercede." RSF has heard the audio recording in which Lendo allegedly said this and, in fact, the speaker is a local civil society lawyer. The recording was originally played on Top Congo and only later was it replayed by Lendo's station.
When reached by RSF, Mukumadi described Lendo as just an "radio host" working for Lambert Mende, a political rival who ran against him for the governorship, although Lendo has a press card authenticated by the National Union of the Congolese Press (UNPC), as RSF has confirmed. Mukumadi nonetheless added: "I will contact my lawyers to see if a solution can be found."
"It took only a few hours to obtain proof that this journalist did not make the comments that are the ostensible grounds for the complaint against him, but he has nonetheless been held for the past two days," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "This latest arrest comes amid growing harassment of local journalists and media outlets that don't support this governor. The Sankuru press cannot be a hostage to local political rivalries, and the Congolese authorities cannot wait for the list of victims to get longer. We call on the government to end the escalation by taking the necessary measures. The radio station manager must be released and this politician must be sanctioned."
Lendo was already arrested in August, as were two of his journalists, who were tortured while detained, as RSF reported at the time. RSF also denounced the simultaneous closure of Radio Losanganya and the local branch of the national state radio and TV broadcaster RTNC in a raids carried out by soldiers and police.
As a result of the complaint that JED, RSF's partner, filed against the governor about the torturing of the two journalists, the governor received a summons to appear before a military court on 14 September. However, he did not turn up for the hearing, the official in charge of the investigation told RSF.
The DRC is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.