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Foreign journalists harassed during and after presidential poll

Foreign journalists harassed during and after presidential poll

Published on Monday 20 July 2009. Updated on Wednesday 29 July 2009.
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Reporters Without Borders condemns police harassment and violence against journalists during and after the 12 June elections in which, as expected, President Denis Sassou N’Guesso won another term. A French journalist told the press freedom organisation: “We were just going about our work when anti-riot police attacked us and seized our equipment.”

“The use of such violent methods is liable to sow doubt about the regularity of these elections,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Journalists have been physically attacked, threatened and harassed at the whim of police and soldiers. We urge the authorities to punish all the abuse of authority towards media personnel that took place during the polls.”

Visiting journalists Arnaud Zajtman and Marlène Rabaud of the French satellite TV station France 24 and BBC World Service correspondent Thomas Fessy were physically attacked by police while covering an opposition demonstration held in Brazzaville when the results were announced on 15 July. Their equipment was confiscated and they were forced to leave the scene of the protest.

Reached by telephone, Fessy said he was shocked by the way the police behaved. “They grabbed me around the waist and pulled me by the hair to make me let go of my tape recorder, which was immediately taken by a plain-clothes policemen,” he said. “Another policeman snatched my bag.”

On returning to their hotel, the three journalists realised they were being kept under surveillance. As a result, they moved out and went to a location that offered more security.

A few hours after the polls opened on 12 July, a dozen security agents led by Col. Thomas Bakala Mayinda of the Congolese intelligence agency arrived at the Hotel Saphir and asked to see visiting Radio France Internationale reporter Catherine Ninin, claiming they had an interview with her. The hotel refused to let them in.

That evening, Ninin received a threatening phone call from a presidential aide while two additional groups of security agents went to the hotel and remained outside all night.

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