Reporters Without Borders (RSF) joins Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organization in Democratic Republic of Congo, in condemning the high-handed methods that the interim governor of the northwestern province of Mongala has been using to silence local media outlets.
Radio Liberté Lisala director Erick Ngunde had just hosted a programme about political tension and conflicts in the province on 13 February when interim governor Clémentine Sole stormed into the radio station with about 20 policemen and had him arrested.
When reached by RSF, Sole said she had been obliged to take this action because Ngunde had interviewed a politician "who sows trouble in the province" and because his radio station continues to "insult the authorities" despite her repeated "warnings."
"It is unacceptable for a governor to take the law into her own hands by going to a radio station and arresting a journalist simply because she doesn't like what a guest said on the air," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "We call for the release of this journalist, who should not be in prison, and we urge the local authorities to stop using such high-handed methods to settle any differences they may have with some of the province's media."
Ngunde was arrested less than 24 hours after Radio Liberté Lisala had been given permission to resume broadcasting. Like Radio Mwana Mboka, which is also owned by former governor Crispin Ngbundu, it had been closed for a week on the interim governor's orders for urging people to go to the airport in the province's capital, Lisala, to greet Ngbundu on his return to the province for the first time since his removal as governor in December.
Accompanied by policemen, the interim governor also went to the local branch of the national radio and TV broadcaster, RTNC, on 5 February to order it to cut short a programme about Ngbundu's imminent return to the province.
Journalists and media have suffered because of the political rivalry in Mongala in recent months and have often been the direct targets of reprisals between the rival factions. In a press release last June, when Ngbundu was still governor, RSF reported that the provincial authorities had ordered the suspension of several radio programmes of a political nature and the dismissal of at least six journalists.
RSF has been actively advocating for a moratorium on arrests of journalists in the DRC pending a complete overhaul of the very repressive 1996 law regulating journalism. President Félix Tshisekedi said he supported the proposal when he met with RSF and JED in November 2019 but has taken no action since then.
The DRC is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.