Journalist Recalls Phone Threat Ordeal

Congolese reporter speaks of harrowing messages threatening to kill her and two colleagues.

Journalist Recalls Phone Threat Ordeal

Congolese reporter speaks of harrowing messages threatening to kill her and two colleagues.

Monday, 23 November, 2009
It is Wednesday, September 8, 2009, around 9.30 am when suddenly, my phone rings. I pick up and hear the voice of my colleague Caddy Adzuba from Radio Okapi on the other end of the line.



She says she has an important message for me and that she will come see me around 12 pm in the studio of the Dutch NGO La Benevolencija, a partner of Radio Maendeleo, where I work, setting up a radio programme.



At 1 pm, I welcome Caddy accompanied by her colleague Delphie Namuto, also a journalist from Radio Okapi. We sit down in the editing studio and after a few jokes, Delphie shows me a message on her phone.



I take the phone and find a message in Swahili saying, “As you are in the habit of interfering in topics that are none of your business, convinced that you are untouchable, we are going to touch you. We have already received the authorisation to start with Caddy, then Kamuntu, then Kintu Namuto..: a bullet in the head.”



I first take it as a joke and tell my friends. Many colleagues, mostly those organising political talks, receive such threatening messages. But they don’t panic.



But Caddy replies seriously, “Jolly, I personally never bought into such messages, but what scares me is that last weekend I got three anonymous calls from a man calling himself Lucifer threatening to kill me. And, apparently, I was being watched because I was in a restaurant with two colleagues, journalists from Spain, and …Lucifer told me that he could see me eating with two white people.”



As Caddy says these words, I start shivering and my heartbeat becomes three times faster than normal. I am pregnant and I get the feeling that I am going to give birth any minute.



Delphie looks at me and asks if I have ever received such a call or message. “None,” I say. I take a piece of paper and write the message down as well as the number it was sent from.



I stop working and tell my colleagues I am going to inform my superiors.



We stand up all three of us and at the door we meet Chouchou Namegabe, coordinator of the Association des Femmes des Médias du Sud Kivu, AFEM, and we tell her our story.



She keeps calm, but says, “This is serious; I remember that someone said in the crowd on the day of journalist Koko Bruno’s funeral (murdered in August 2009) that it was now women journalists’ turn to die. I cannot remember what he looked like.”



None of us know why we have been targeted nor by whom. My two colleagues work for MONUC, the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, and as a radio journalist, I have been concerned with the issue of sexual violence against women.



I am also chair of the Association of Women in the Media in South Kivu, which has been fighting sexual violence against women since 2006 and I recently won a prize from the UN Development Programme for my reporting on the issue.



It appears those who hate the press have decided to focus their attacks on women journalists.



My husband is away on a business trip in Minembwe more than 200 kilometres away from Bukavu. I remember that I will be alone at home with my two little daughters, and I shiver even more.



When I show the message and tell the story to my director, he does not hide his surprise. “No one makes small threats in this town,” he said.



He then notifies national and international journalist organisations and human rights groups and advises me to file a complaint immediately against the unknown person who sent the message (under Congolese law, even if the perpetrator of a crime is unknown, a complaint can still be filed with the prosecutor).



The news spreads quickly. On the following day, September 9, I get many calls and people tell me they followed the story on Radio Okapi, Digital Congo and RFI.



That very same day, Journaliste en Danger, JED, a group which fights for freedom of expression in the DRC, announced a news conference in Kinshasa to denounce the practice of targeting critical journalists.



Meanwhile, my complaint is filed and sent to the high military prosecution office of South Kivu, with copies sent to various authorities including the governor, prosecutor, and military commander.



Some security measures are taken by my radio office with its partner La Benevolencija. Monuc, the UN mission in DRC, gets involved too, through its human rights unit. They decide to move the three of us to another place for some time. I cannot move by plane since I am so far along in my pregnancy, so I get extra protection at home.



I have just been seen by a military magistrate and the provincial authorities reassure me that proceedings aimed at finding the source of the death threats are developing well.



Then my husband returns after a month away and I feel more and more balanced, even if sometimes I get the feeling I am living on death row without knowing exactly who has something against me.





Footnote



The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, has highlighted the murder of three journalists in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu, since 2007. The latest victim, radio presenter Bruno Koko Chirambiza, was stabbed to death in Bukavu in August but not robbed and there was no obvious motive, it said.



"Bukavu has become one of the most dangerous cities for journalists in Africa. Congolese authorities have failed to conduct thorough investigations into the murders of media personnel, and that has emboldened the killers of journalists," CPJ Africa coordinator Tom Rhodes said in a statement.

The organisation called on Congolese authorities to end what it called an alarming pattern of impunity in journalist murders.
Africa
Support our journalists