Reporters Without Borders learned with huge relief of the release today of Robert Shemahamba, director of Radio-Télévision Communautaire Mitumba (RTCM), broadcasting in Uvira in Sud-Kivu province. He had been held in custody by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) since 17 December and was transferred on 24 December from Uvira to Bukavu.
"I thank God and all those who lobbied for my release. The ten days in detention were a nightmare. In Uvira, I was put in a cell without any light. The conditions were poor and I had to protest and I was then transferred to Bukavu after a week. I think I will recover here for a while before going back to Uvira”, Shemahamba told Reporters Without Borders.
Meanwhile, there is continuing uncertainty about the fate of another journalist, Dominique Kalonzo, correspondent in Uvira for privately-owned Radio Maendeleo, based in Bukavu. The journalist is being sought by the ANR in connection with the same case as Robert Shemahamba. After going into hiding for a week, he was reportedly involved in an altercation in Uvira yesterday with ANR agents sent to arrest him. He was injured and taken to a health centre in the city. According to information obtained by Journalist in danger (JED), a partner organisation of Reporters Without Borders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kalonzo left the hospital in the company of two individuals who came to visit him. Nothing has been heard of him since. Neither his family nor his colleagues know if he has been abducted or is in hiding.
23.12.2010- Will journalist Robert Shemahamba have to spend Christmas in an intelligence service cell?
Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned the arbitrary imprisonment, since 17 December, of Robert Shemahamba, director of Radio-Télévision Communautaire Mitumba (RTCM) and correspondent for the Syfia Grands Lacs news agency.
The journalist is being held in a cell at the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in Uvira, Sud-Kivu province in the east of the country. To date, all efforts on the part of the worldwide press freedom organisation to get him released have been unsuccessful.
Reporters Without Borders has since 20 December discussed the case several times with the administrator of the Uvira territory, Wabunga Singa, who told us that the journalist would be quickly freed – “in the next few hours”, he said – but this came to nothing. As for the provincial head of the ANR for Sud-Kivu, he is currently in Kinshasa and says he cannot intervene before returning to the east of the country.
Since the authorities closest to this case are showing bad faith and inertia, promising to release the journalist but then doing nothing about it, we call on the minister of Communications and the Media, Lambert Mendé Omalanga, as well as the vice-Premier minister and minister of the Interior and Security, Adolphe Lumanu Mulenda Bwana N’Sefu, to take responsibility for the case. Getting this journalist released is urgent, first to put right an injustice done to him for almost a week, but also because his health is deteriorating.
According to information gathered by Reporters Without Borders, Shemahamba is in a weakened state and is suffering from diarrhoea. His jailers refuse to allow him any visits or access to medical treatment.
The journalist on 12 December presented the programme “Franc parler”’ during which guests criticised a speech to the nation by President Joseph Kabila and the construction of the Uvira stadium, which is being dealt with by the territory’s deputy administrator in charge of finance, Victor Chomachoma, who is suspected of corruption.
The following day, Shemahamba was summoned by the high court in Uvira and questioned by the state prosecutor. He was accused by Victor Chomachoma of “insult and contempt of his person and that of the head of state”. He was summoned to the ANR on 17 December and placed in detention there.
Journalist Dominique Kalonzo, correspondent in Uvira for privately-owned Radio Maendeleo based in Bukavu, is now being sought by the ANR for taking part in the same programme. He has been living in hiding since 17 December. His house has been searched and is now ringed by intelligence agents who have been threatening to arrest his wife if the journalist does not give himself up.
Demonstrations were held last weekend in Uvira calling for the release of Shemahamba but the protestors were brutally dispersed by police. The Sud-Kivu section of the Congolese National Press Union (UNPC) has released a statement deploring the plight of Shemahamba and Kalonzo and calling for the release of the former.
Three community radios in Uvira on 20 December started broadcasting special programmes to demonstrate their solidarity with Shemahamba, suspending normal broadcast to play songs with themes related to the journalist’s detention. Uvira journalists are planning a sit-in tomorrow outside the office of the administrator of the territory.
Reporters Without Borders offers its support for all these local initiatives which should intensify pressure on those responsible for the journalist’s detention.