Thirty-one IFEX members appeal to President Kabila for improvement in press freedom

Twenty-nine members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a worldwide coalition of press freedom groups, yesterday voiced their support for the open letter which fellow IFEX members Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sent to President Joseph Kabila on 30 August.

Voicing concern about the “constant decline in the climate for journalists and steadily shrinking space for free expression” in the Democratic Republic of Congo as next year’s presidential election approaches, the 31 organisations jointly call on President Kabila to:

- Declare a moratorium on imprisoning journalists on charges of defamation or insulting the authorities, so that the media can play their role as a fourth estate in the run-up to the 2011 presidential election and can help combat corruption and any possible attempts at electoral fraud.

- Create the proposed Higher Council for Broadcasting and Communication (CSAC) as soon as possible. By having responsibility for regulating the media and by being empowered to ensure that all the candidates have equitable access to the state-owned media, this independent council will help to combat media abuses and the danger of excessive media politicisation during the coming election year.

The 31 organisations that have signed the appeal are: Adil Soz, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Association of Caribbean Media Workers, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Cartoonists Rights Network International, Centre for Media Studies and Peace Building, The Committee to Protect Journalists, Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association, Exiled Journalists Network, Freedom House, Free Media Movement, Globe International, Human Rights Network for Journalists, Independent Journalism Centre, International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, International Press Institute, Journaliste en Danger, Maharat Foundation, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Media Rights Agenda, Media Watch, National Union of Somali Journalists, Observatoire pour la Liberté de Presse, d’Edition et de Création, Pacific Islands News Association, Pakistan Press Foundation, Public Association "Journalists", Reporters Without Borders, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, and World Press Freedom Committee.

The 30 August open letter to President Kabila can be read here.

Communication minister and government spokesman Lambert Mendé Omalanga criticised the letter in a communiqué broadcast on Radio-Télévision Nationale Congolaise in which he insisted that “press freedom is improving in the DRC.”

Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger wrote to the minister today pointing out the spurious nature of the arguments he used and reiterating their concern about the dangers to which journalists are exposed in the DRC.

Among the requests made in the 30 August letter to Kabila was the release of Le Journal editor Jullson Eninga, who had been held for five months on a treason charges. He was finally tried and acquitted on 6 September and was released the next day. [More information:].