Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is extremely concerned to learn that a radio journalist in Ituri, one of the two provinces in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo that has been under a state of siege since 6 May, was threatened by a soldier in connection with his reporting. This intimidation attempt marks yet another step backwards for journalists' safety in the DRC, RSF says.
Parfait Katoto, the director of a community radio station in the locality of Biakoto, has been in hiding for more than two weeks, ever since a soldier broke into his home and threatened him on the evening of 29 May, shortly after he broadcast a report about thefts by members of the armed forces in Biakoto during the state of siege.
Katoto told RSF that the soldier, who wore the uniform of a member of the DRC's armed forces, took his phone, his ID documents and some money, and then threatened to kill him because of the report. Katoto added that he has not gone back to his home or the station since then for fear of reprisals, and that he did not want to file a complaint because of the current security situation.
Ituri and the neighbouring province of Nord-Kivu are due to remain under a state of siege, with military justice replacing civilian justice, until the end of June at least because of the frequency of attacks by armed groups.
When reached by RSF, Maj. John Bebwa, the army commander in Biakato, said he had been told nothing about Katoto but insisted that the radio station's "accusations" against his soldiers were "baseless."
"The state of siege must not encourage a feeling of impunity within the armed forces or be used as a pretext for silencing a journalist who is already working in a very precarious security situation in the east of the DRC," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "We condemn the threats made against Parfait Katoto and we hold the local military authorities responsible for his safety and for anything that happens to him."
Threats to media freedom and the safety of journalists are frequent in this part of the country. Lwemba Community Radio presenter Papy Mahamba Mumbere was hacked to death in front of his wife in Ituri province in November 2019 after hosting a programme about measures to combat the Ebola virus.
Radio UB-FM reporter Nanou Kazaku sustained a gunshot injury while covering a demonstration in Goma, the capital of Nord-Kivu province, on 17 February 2021. Last month, Goma-based commander Gen. Aba Van Ang asked his soldiers to find journalist Paluku Riky in order to "flog" him and "punish" him for saying in a Facebook post that soldiers had fired on a civilian in Nord-Kivu.
The DRC is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.