SMS messaging was restored today in the Democratic Republic of Congo, after being suspended throughout the country on the government’s orders on 3 December. The end of the ban was announced by the minister of posts and new communication technologies (who is also deputy prime minister) and was immediately confirmed by local sources including the National Network of Human Rights Organizations (RENADHOC).
“We are relieved to learn that the SMS network has been restored for all users in the DRC,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Congolese population has recovered access to an essential communication service. We deplore the fact that users were deprived of this service and that their fundamental right to communicate was thereby restricted for such a long time. We condemn this excessive measure and urge the authorities not to repeat it.”
After disputed election, SMS messaging suspended until further notice
Reporters Without Borders deplores the still poisonous climate for the media in the Democratic Republic of Congo nearly a month after the 28 November general elections. In addition to security problems when covering campaign meetings before the elections and protest meetings since, journalists are now being detained and questioned and media are being suspended.
In Kinshasa, two opposition TV stations – Canal Futur Télévision (CFTV) and Radio Lisanga Télévision (RLTV) – have had their broadcast signals disconnected while several provincial governors have banned local radio stations from retransmitting the programmes of international radio stations.
Reporters Without Borders also regrets that telephone texting has been blocked since early December “until further notice” and wrote today to Deputy Prime Minister Adolphe Lumanu Mulenda Buana N’sefu, who is also minister of interior and security, asking him to rescind this measure. Here is the text of the letter:
Mr. Adolphe Lumanu Mulenda Buana N’sefu
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior and Security
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
Paris, 22 December 2011
Reporters Without Borders, an international NGO that defends media freedom, urges you to restore telephone texting services, which have been blocked throughout the country since the start of December.
Your ministry ordered the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mobile phone operators to suspend SMS services on 3 December “until further notice” in order “to maintain public order and protect the safety of property and people.”
We are aware of your responsibilities and your ministry’s role as guarantor of public order and the safety of your country’s citizens, especially in this troubled and often violent electoral period. We would nonetheless like to draw your attention to the repressive and arbitrary nature of this measure.
By blocking all telephone text messaging, your ministry has reacted in a disproportionate manner reminiscent of the behaviour of certain repressive regimes. By adopting this measure, you have added the DRC to the list of countries such as Egypt, Syria and Kazakhstan that have suspended telecommunications in an attempt to silence protests. The current situation in the DRC is nonetheless unprecedented, as the disruption of communication networks in these other countries never lasted more than a few days.
The blocking of telephone messaging is a serious violation of rights guaranteed by your country’s constitution and international human rights treaties ratified by the DRC. The fundamental rights to freedom of communication and the free flow of information are being flouted by this measure, the impact of which is all the greater because SMS messaging is a dominant form of communication in a country where Internet penetration rate is only 1 per cent.
The blocking has hampered the work of those who are observing the election process. We remind you that the SMS network plays an indispensible if not vital role for all those in your country with a hearing impairment. It is also used by human right activists as a tool for issuing alerts.
The financial repercussions for the DRC’s mobile phone operators are not insignificant either. They are suffering daily losses of around 150,000 US dollars. Their representatives wrote on 15 December to Mr. Louis Koyagialo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Posts, Transport and Telecommunications, asking him to end the suspension of SMS messaging. Their request has so far been in vain.
In the name of freedom of expression and the right to information, our organization asks you to do what is necessary to restore telephone texting services as soon as possible.
We thank you in advance for the attention you give to this request.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general
Read also the statement (in French) released on December 22nd by the Human Rights’ NGOs National Network for the DRC (Réseau national des ONGs des droits de l’homme de la République démocratique du Congo - RENADHOC) concerning the suspension of telephone texting (PDF here attached).
Photo : Adolphe Lumanu (Radio Okapi)