Africa, Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights

Q&A: DRC Journalists Have to be Very Careful

Emmanuel Chaco interviews DIEUDONNE MALEKERA, journalist and human rights advocate

BUKAVU, DR Congo, May 12 2010 (IPS) - Six journalists have been murdered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the past six years, four of them in the Eastern region. Official investigations have failed to clarify the circumstances of any of these killings.

Dieudonné Malékéra is a journalist and human rights advocate based in Bukavu, Eastern DRC, who covered three of the murder trials.

Q: Six journalists murdered in six years, with a record number of four in the eastern part of the country alone. Are these targeted assassinations or random violence? A: Three journalists killed in Bukavu in a three-year period. Serge Maheshe on Jun. 13, 2007, Didace Namujimbo on Nov. 21, 2008 and Koko Bruno Chirhambiza on Aug. 27, 2009. And a cameraman (Patient Chebeya Bankome) was recently killed (Apr. 5 2010) in North Kivu…

Since 2007 there’s been a journalist killed each year. These seem to be targeted killings and the trials have many murky areas.

In the case of Maheshe, the men who were found guilty said they had been ordered to kill the journalist. We know where they came from and how long they waited for their target without attacking anyone else. Two soldiers that were originally charged and arrested were released under strange circumstances and two of the journalist’s friends were then accused of plotting the murder.

As for the Namujimbo trial, the three soldiers and one civilian accused of the crime claimed that they just wanted to snatch the journalist’s computer. They traveled about eight kilometres without bothering anyone else on the road. The reporter was their only victim. The victim was targeted.

The Chirhambiza case is odd. He was returning from a party at night, and it is true that he went through a neighborhood where thieves often prey on passersby. But the only suspect is the victim’s friend, who was walking home with him from the party.

Freedom of the press is threatened by the precarious security situation in the East. There is little tolerance for criticism from independent media and journalists. Journalists have to be very careful. Relatively organised armed groups continue to prey on communities and there’s an unregulated amount of military weaponry in circulation.

Q: Maheshe, Namujimbo, Chirhambiza and the cameraman killed in North Kivu – what were these four working on? Do you think there was a link between their investigations and their deaths? A: Maheshe was a copy editor at Radio Okapi (a joint project of the Fondation Hirondelle and the United Nations) and participated in some meetings regarding the United Nations Mission in DRC (MONUC) strategic questions. He also had trouble with some members of the presidential guard stationed near his home.

During the 2006 presidential campaign, Namujimbo reported receiving threats from the candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba for an article chronicling Bemba’s visit to Bukavu where the local population called him a “carnivore”. The piece was critical of how Bemba’s militia had destroyed the part of the country they controlled (the Northwest).

Regarding the killing of the cameraman in North Kivu, a colleague from Beni (North Kivu), a reporter with the news agency Syfia Grands Lacs told us that the attackers had asked the victim to hand over some footage.

Q: How far along are these murder trials? A: Three civilians were handed the death penalty for the murder of Maheshe. They are being held at the central prison in Bukavu.

There was an unexpected twist in the Namujimbo case a week ago, when an accused soldier declined a court-appointed lawyer, saying he did not need one, “as long as the real author of the crime is free and present in the room when the court is preparing to condemn innocent men.”

Q: Do you think that any of these trials has shed some light on the circumstances around these killings? What can be done for the victims’ families? What role did civil society play in the trials? A: The justice system has shed no light on these murders. In the Maheshe and Namujimbo trials, the work was incomplete. They arrested the gunmen but did not try to find the true culprits.

Civil society seems demobilised and less motivated with every day that passes… The professional associations simply sent messages of condolences and exhort journalists to take basic security steps.

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