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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Journalist Stabbed to Death in Democratic Republic of Congo

Three Radio Stations Threatened with Closure, amid Media Freedom Concerns 

Radio Star reporter Bruno Koko Chirambiza, who was stabbed to death in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on 22 Aug 2009. Photo: Journaliste en danger

The International Press Institute (IPI) condemns the brutal murder of Bruno Koko Chirambiza, a 24 year-old reporter for Radio Star, who was stabbed to death in the city of Bukavu, in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on Saturday night, and demands that his killers be brought to justice.   

Local media sources told IPI that Chirambiza was stabbed twice in the chest by a group of eight unidentified assailants while on his way home, with a friend, from a wedding. He died from his wounds in hospital. His friend escaped unharmed.

Chirambiza was a journalist with Radio Star, a local Swahili-language station.                                                          

“Chirambiza made educational radio, not politics. I don’t know if [he was killed] because he is a journalist,” Radio Star station owner Pierre Pay-Pay told IPI. But he added: “I assume perhaps Koko had been investigating in an area that was not good.”

Chirambiza appears to have been singled out by his attackers.  

“His colleague was not attacked, and nothing was stolen from him,” Pay-Pay noted.   

Early Tuesday, Voice of America (VOA) radio reported that an investigation into Chirambiza’s murder had been launched by state authorities, who suspect that the reporter may have been killed by insurgents in the region.   

Pay-Pay, who is also an opposition politician, expressed skepticism: “Maybe many journalists in Congo are protesting that there is no investigation, so maybe they will begin.  But they should have begun the investigation immediately.  It happened on Saturday, not today.”

Pay-Pay also insisted that it “is curious, strange” that the authorities permitted the body to be buried on Sunday, before any autopsy had been carried out.   

This is the third murder of a Bukavu journalist in recent years, according to IPI’s Death Watch list.  On 21 November 2008, Radio Okapi journalist Didace Namujimbo was shot near his home. In 2007, the editor of the same station, Serge Maheshe Kasole, was shot while getting into his UN-marked car.   

“The International Press Institute (IPI) condemns the barbaric murder of Bruno Chirambiza,” said IPI Director David Dadge. “The Bukavu authorities must find and prosecute both the killers and the mastermind behind Bruno Chirambiza’s death, whoever they are, as well as those responsible for the murders of Didace Namujimbo and Serge Maheshe Kasole.”  

Bukavu is the capital of Sud-Kivu in eastern DRC, near the Rwandan border, an area that has seen renewed conflict between DRC army forces and other armed groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.   

This weekend’s slaying is the latest in a string of events that have raised serious concerns about press freedom in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Last week, the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) threatened three radio stations in Butembo, Nord-Kivu, with closure if they continue to retransmit Radio France Internationale’s (RFI) signal.  In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where literacy rates are low, people depend heavily on radio for news.   

On 12 August, station directors Kennedy Wema of Radio Télé Graben, Rochereau Kambakamba of Radio Liberté and John Tchipenda of Radio Scolaire were summoned to the ANR’s local office, where they were told that their stations would be shut down if they continued to retransmit RFI broadcasts.

The directors were told that the order came from the province’s governor. “I told [the agent] that this wasn’t correct, we argued about it for two hours,” Wema told IPI.  

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