“Fragile” DRC at risk as government clamps down on critics, UN expert warns
The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is silencing critics in clear violation of international human rights law, a United Nations expert has warned.
The action, which includes jamming radio broadcasts and arresting journalists, is targeting the independent media at a time of high political tension, says the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye.
“These actions are not only in clear violation of the DRC’s obligations under international human rights law, but the silencing of critical voices through arrests, censorship and other forms of government control poses risks for the stability of the country which is already in a seriously fragile state,” the expert said.
“Freedom of expression in the DRC has increasingly been threatened by the criminalization of critics and the opposition, including the use of harsh punishments. The government has a responsibility to uphold people’s rights to freedom of expression and a free media, as guaranteed in the 2005 constitution,” Mr. Kaye added. “It should also take the opportunity to promote and protect these rights to establish a foundation for growth and stability.”
The independent expert highlighted examples including a decree issued by the Minister of Information and Media, Lambert Mende, on 12 November, prohibiting the international media from operating in the DRC unless they sign an agreement with a local media outlet or create one subject to Congolese regulations.
Such a rule threatened independent radio stations, such as Okapi or RFI, which broadcast in the country without local partnership, the UN Special Rapporteur noted.
Mr. Kaye also noted that since the beginning of November, five journalists had been arrested and the government had jammed the signals of three media outlets - RTBF, RFI Brazza and a local radio station in Katanga – accusing them of interference in the country’s internal affairs. The government had also asked Okapi to stop broadcasting two programmes, alleging they provided a platform for anti-government opinions.
“With the government proposing changes to the Constitution that would extend the presidency’s terms of office, it is especially important to foster open public debate,” said the Special Rapporteur.
“Instead, I am concerned that the Government is attempting to reduce that space and limit the participation of critics.”
Mr. Kaye’s call has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai; and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.