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Congo election

Journalists harassed in Congo during election coverage

Article published on the 2009-07-18 Latest update 2009-07-18 16:18 TU

Four journalists, including an RFI reporter, were harassed by Congolese authorities while they were covering the 12 July presidential election and its aftermath, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Authorities have several times criticised the international media of disseminating false information, and during and after the vote, journalists had complained of threats and intimidation.

RFI’s Catherine Ninin, as well as two France 24 television journalists, Arnaud Zajtman and Marlène Rabaud and BBC radio reporter Thomas Fessy were bothered and attacked by police and their equipment destroyed or confiscated, according to a CPJ statement.

A few hours before polls opened Sunday, security agents demanded to see Ninin at her hotel, and the staff did not let them enter. Ninin said she received a threatening phone call from a presidential aide a while later, and security agents stayed at the hotel all night. 

During a press conference a day before the vote, officials warned Ninin about RFI and France 24’s coverage, according to several journalists there.

An editorial in the pro-government Le Patriote newspaper denounced her coverage, calling them “unbalanced”, showing her bias by predicting a low voter turnout.

“[RFI] works like a sniper or a mercenary who rubs his hands before killing an innocent person,” it said. “[RFI] works hard to sew chaos in Congo.”

On Wednesday, at a demonstration in Brazzaville to protest President Denis Sassou-Nguesso’s claim of a landslide victory, police were everywhere.

Officers broke the France 24 team’s camera, and Fessy was forced to surrender his audio recorder by an officer who pulled his hair.

On Thursday, national police spokesman Colonel Jean Aïve Alakoua told the CPJ that the demonstration had not yet been reviewed, and he had “not received any complaint” about the incidents.

On Wednesday he said police had been at the demonstration to manage protesters, not the journalists.

"It was up to journalists to be prudent and stay on the right side," he said.