Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

International Justice/ICC: Oct/Nov ‘09

IWPR reports on arbitrary arrests of human rights activists promote debate on often taboo subjects in DRC.
By IWPR
Journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, say that they have been encouraged by recent IWPR coverage of two detained human rights activists to discuss subjects that they would not usually talk about.


Golden Misabiko, who is president of the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights, ASADHO-Katanga, was arrested on July 24 following the publication by his organisation of a report alleging that the government was exploiting uranium mining in the south-east of the country.


He was subsequently charged with “publishing false information with intent to harm” and sentenced to a year in prison, of which eight months were suspended.


Mulumba Kapepula, a national railway employee, was arrested on June 5 and charged with insulting the head of state, when he accused the government of under-paying public sector workers. He was allegedly tortured while in detention, but was subsequently released without charges being brought.


The controversial subjects of uranium mining and the arrests of rights activists are often avoided by journalists working in the Katanga region of the DRC, where Misabiko works and where much of the country's minerals are mined.


But, after the publication of the IWPR article about Misabiko's case, journalists said they felt less restrained to talk about such problems.


Béni Rashidi Raisi, a journalist at Lubumbashi’s university radio station, said it was thanks to this particular article that he had the courage to organise a programme about Misabiko’s arrest.


“We are always scared to address human rights activists’ arrests since this triggers many problems for us,” he said. “There are two words we try avoiding: uranium and ANR (the National Intelligence Agency). After reading IWPR’s article, I decided to talk about it in my programme. I wasn’t concerned since I gave IWPR as a source.”


He said he extensively used IWPR articles to prepare his programme called Let’s Talk About Law.


Jérôme Kayembe, president of Katanga’s press centre, where most of the local newspapers are printed, said articles published on the IWPR website are reproduced each month by 20 or so titles.


“Golden and Kapepula’s articles were republished by almost all newspapers,” he said. “This is largely because of the trust editors place in IWPR, which is seen as being fair in its reporting.”


IWPR's stories have also had an impact on Congolese living outside of the country.


“Since the Congolese press does not address certain subjects, we are often informed through articles published on IWPR’s website,” said Marcel Béni, a Congolese living in South Africa.


Meanwhile, articles about Kapepula’s case (See Glimmer of Hope for Justice and Secret Police Accused of Torture) have provoked several debates in legal circles.


Lubumbashi’s university law school organised a lecture on torture, based on the article published by IWPR, which was attended by around 1000 students.


“It was important for us to organise this lecture since the methods used by the ANR must be publicly denounced,” said Espoir Ndoya from Lubumbashi’s university law faculty. “We believe that IWPR’s article on torture deserves to be publicised in order to denounce what the ANR is doing. It is with these kind of articles that we can become a democratic republic.”


The Kapepula article also caught the attention of magistrates in the country.


“IWPR’s article acknowledges that we are moving towards judicial independence, although a lot still remains to be done,” said a Lubumbashi magistrate.


Rey Kayombo, a defence lawyer for Kapepula, added, “IWPR’s article on the release of Kapepula opened our eyes and I wish to inform you that we are getting prepared to file an appeal at Lubumbashi’s appeal court against people who tortured Kapepula.”