In DRC, provincial governor blocks radio station’s bid to resume broadcasting


Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the illegal actions of the governor of Équateur province, in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who sent police officers to prevent journalists from complying with a court order to reopen a local radio station that has been closed for the past 19 months.

The entire police garrison was there, denying us access to our premises,” said Steve Mwanyo Iwewe, the director of Radio Télévision Sarah (RTS), describing how a dozen police officers accompanied by provincial justice minister Imbambo Nzobali, acting on the orders of Équateur governor Bobo Boloko Bolumbu, prevented them from reopening the radio station on 6 June.

What has taken place is astounding and completely illegal. After preventing this popular community radio from operating for a long time on obscure grounds, the provincial authorities assumed the right to intervene to prevent it from reopening. We condemn this abuse of authority in the strongest terms, and call on Équateur province’s governor to stop blocking a court decision and to allow Radio Télévision Sarah to resume operating freely and without hindrance. The equipment that was seized must also be returned to the radio station.

Sadibou Marong
Director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau

The police “are still stationed outside the building, armed to the teeth,” Iwewe told RSF. “They have threatened to kill us if any of our journalists are seen in the area.” He also said he felt “in total danger." Unidentified persons tried to break down the gate outside his home on the night of 15 June before eventually leaving.

Owned by a previous governor, RTS was closed by the present governor for an initial period of 60 days on 15 November 2021 by means of a decree by the communication minister accusing it of “relaying information insulting the authorities and calling on the population to revolt.” At the same time, a seal was placed on its equipment. The closure was extended arbitrarily two months later for an indefinite period.

In response to a request by the radio station, an appeal court ruled on 2 June that the nearly 19-month-old closure was illegal and that the station could resume broadcasting.

During an inspection carried out before the police intervention on 6 June, the station’s journalists discovered that all of its equipment had been removed. “Mixers, transmitter, radio and TV controls, cameras, microphones and even the chairs… the building is an empty shell,” Iwewe said, adding that police officers sent by the governor had nonetheless guarded the radio station throughout the closure. RSF tried unsuccessfully to contact the governor.

The authorities have also subjected RTS’s journalists to individual persecution. On 28 June 2022, a court in Mbandaka, the provincial capital, sought a three-year prison sentence for RTS reporter Chilassy Bofumbo on charges of “prejudicial accusations, contempt for authority, public insult, and inciting hatred and rebellion” in connection with his coverage of a street protest against the governor in November 2021. He was released after being held for seven months.

In 2019, Iwewe was himself sentenced to 12 months in prison on a charge of insulting the governor for covering a protest on the eve of elections. He was released after being held for two months.

The DRC is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index.