Congolese authorities should thoroughly investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the attack on Radio Evangélique Butembo-Oicha, known as REBO, in North Kivu, and ensure the safety of all journalists in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
Around 9 p.m. on September 12, four armed men in uniforms resembling those of the Congolese army forced their way into the office of the privately owned faith-based radio station in Oicha, the capital of the Beni territory in North Kivu province, threatened two technicians, beat one on the back with the butt of a gun, and seized three computers, a recording device, and two mobile phones belonging to the technicians, according to media reports and Faustin Saumbire, the broadcaster’s editor-in-chief, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. The station stopped broadcasting after the attack and equipment seizures.
In May 2021, the Congolese government imposed military governance known as the “state of siege” over the country’s eastern North Kivu and Ituri provinces; repeated attacks and harassment of journalists in those regions have followed.
“Congolese authorities should conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the attack on the office of Radio Evangélique Butembo-Oicha, ensure those responsible are held to account, and work to bring the broadcaster back on air,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, in Nairobi. “Attacks on the press in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by armed men in government military uniforms are far too frequent. They are grim indicators for freedom of the press in the country.”
Saumbire said the technicians, Delphin Sibaminya and Ishara Siwako, told him that the armed men broke down the office door and threatened to harm them if they tried to stop the attackers from seizing the broadcaster’s equipment. They also confiscated their phones to prevent them from contacting others. When Sibaminya objected, the armed men hit him on the back with the butt of a gun and then began taking the equipment. Saumbire said Sibaminya received treatment at a local hospital the next day for a small wound on his back. Siwako was not physically injured in the incident.
As their phones were taken in the incident and the station is not operating, CPJ has been unable to reach Sibaminya or Siwako.
Station director Caleb Wanzire, told CPJ by phone that he filed a complaint about the incident on Thursday, September 15, on behalf of the radio station, to the offices of Charles Ehuta Omeonga, military administrator of the Beni territory, and Nicolas Kambale Kikuku, mayor of Oicha.
Contacted by CPJ via messaging app, Ehuta said he heard about the attack but had not received a complaint. He said he would investigate as soon as the complaint was received.
Reached by phone, Kambale told CPJ that the incident was deplorable and was discussed in a security meeting of Oicha officials held on Thursday, September 15. “I condemn this attack and during (the) security meeting, we deplored and analyzed this situation by seeking effective solutions to stem general insecurity in Oicha and above all to discipline the soldiers,” Kambale told CPJ. “Investigations are ongoing to find out more.”
Pascal Mapenzi, media coordinator for Beni territory, told CPJ by phone that, in solidarity with the station, Beni journalists gave local authorities 48 hours to find the armed men and return the materials taken from the broadcaster. However, that deadline expired and there were “days without information” on Saturday, September 17, and Monday, September 19, according to Mapenzi and a local Radio Oasis report.