Local Journalists Get Support when Under Threat for Holding Government Accountable

Journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo who are under threat from authorities for their investigative reporting get legal and financial support from Internews partner Journaliste en Danger

On August 14, 2021, a local radio journalist, Joel Mumbere Musavuli, was brutally murdered in his home in Biakato, Ituri Province by unidentified armed men. His death came on the heels of the broadcast of a popular radio program where he condemned the spate of human rights abuses allegedly committed by both government and rebel forces in the province following the declaration of a state of emergency to curb insecurity in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This incident came after the deaths of two other local journalists in Eastern DRC under obscure circumstances.

While these incidents instill fear in local journalists, Internews is continuing to support them by providing support and advocating for a free press.

Hours after the death of Joel Mumbere Musavuli, Internews local partner, Journaliste en Danger (JED) condemned the murder and called on the government for an independent investigation that would not only establish the facts but also “reassure media professionals who are increasingly worried about their safety.” JED has been integral in providing a range of services and support to journalists facing threats to their lives or in conflict with the law. 

Providing legal and financial support to journalists

In February 2021, Internews provided financial support to Christopher Yoka, a local journalist in Bikoro, Equateur Province during his brief stay in Kinshasa following a court order that banished him from his hometown for allegedly defaming a Member of Parliament. Christopher reported in a radio program that the  Member of Parliament had converted to his personal use a vehicle that was supposed to be dedicated to the Ebola response in Bikoro.

Yoka was arrested and imprisoned on a defamation charge, and later released on bail but ordered to leave his hometown. While in Kinshasa, JED provided financial support to him until the case was dismissed for lack of evidence; he was able to return to Bikoro on April 15.

Similar support was provided to journalist Rozenn Kalafulo who was evacuated from Goma to Kinshasa after receiving death threats from a senior army officer for posing a question to the Head of State about the involvement of generals in the army in the exploitation of minerals in Eastern DRC.

Currently, Internews is also providing legal support to Pascal Mulegwa, journalist in Kinshasa and correspondent for Radio France International (RFI) who is facing trial for including in his report an extract from the Public Expenditure Observatory that implicated a senator in the embezzlement of funds from Transco – the national transport company.

Working to improve the media law landscape

As well as supporting local journalists who come under threat, Internews, through its Media Support Development Activity project, is working with partners and the government to improve the legal framework for the exercise of free speech and the press. This includes the repeal of the Criminal Code of 1940 that restricts press freedom, decriminalization of libel, limiting the powers of local authority in closing media outlets or programs deemed critical of them or the authority, and promoting self-regulation as an alternative to penalizing the press.

While the volatile political and security situation in the country threatens the safety and security of local journalists, progress has been made in engaging the government and Members of Parliament for a new media bill and the movement for a free press is underway.

Internews’ activities in the DRC are funded by USAID, Swedish Cooperation and Swiss Development Agency.