Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger (JED) take note of the formal apology that one of the leaders of the M23 rebel movement has given for M23’s death threats against journalists and harassment of media in the territory it controls in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu.
M23 political coordinator Jean-Marie Runiga gave his apology during a news conference on 20 October in Bunagana, a locality on the Ugandan border that has been under this rebel military group’s control for several months.
"I would like to say that, if this is true, it is not part of M23’s general policies," Runiga said. "This is not what M23’s leaders have chosen to do. And if it is true, I would like, on M23’s behalf, to present my apologies to the journalists who have been threatened, and I promise to conduct enquiries to verify these allegations, and we will punish those responsible."
Runiga was reacting to the joint letter that RWB and JED had sent him the previous day urging him to disown the threats and comments by certain M23 officials targeting journalists in M23-controlled territory. RWB and JED also asked him to use his prerogatives to guarantee the safety of Jean-Baptiste Kambale, the manager of a community radio station based in Rutshuru.
M23 representatives threatened Kambale in September, accusing him of helping the French television station TV5 Monde to make a series of reports showing mistreatment of the civilian population and other human rights violations by M23 troops.
19.10.2012 - Letter to M23 rebels about threats to journalists in Nord-Kivu
Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organization in Democratic Republic of Congo, wrote today to Jean-Marie Runiga, the political coordinator of the M23 rebel movement, voicing concern about the dangers for journalists working in M23-controlled territory, especially Rutshuru, in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu, and asking him to take action to stop the threats and guarantee their safety.
Here is the text of the joint letter:
Mr. Jean-Marie Runiga M23 Political Coordinator Democratic Republic of Congo
Paris and Kinshasa, 19 October 2012
Re: Climate of danger and threats to journalists
Dear Mr. Runiga,
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and Journalist in Danger (JED), two organizations that defend freedom of information, are writing to you as head of the armed movement called M23 to express their concern about the climate of danger for journalists working in the territories under your control, especially Rutshuru, in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu.
Our two organizations would like to draw your attention to your responsibility to guarantee the safety of journalists as they go about their work and to ensure that media freedom and the right to information are respected in the areas where you operate.
RWB and JED condemn and reject the threats that representatives of your movement have been making in recent days against local journalists and reporters working for the foreign media.
According to our information, Jean-Baptiste Kambale, the manager of Radio Communautaire Ushirika (RACOU), a community radio station based in Rutshuru, in territory controlled by M23 and located 75 kms from Goma (the capital of Nord-Kivu), was harassed following a series of reports on the French television station TV5 Monde showing mistreatment of the civilian population and other human rights violations by your troops.
He was threatened on 25 September by this territory’s administrator, Benjamin Sibomango, who accused him of facilitating the TV5 Monde crew’s work.
He also received a call from the administrator of the Rutshuru territory, who expressed the following death threat: "You led the Whites to Rutshuru for them to criticize us. You know we are rebels. For us, killing someone is not a big deal."
The next day, it was M23 spokesman Vianney Kazarama who openly expressed his discontent with the journalist over the French TV channel’s reports, calling him an "enemy" paid by the government in Kinshasa to sully M23’s image. He was back on the offensive against the journalist on 15 October, accusing him of having trapped him and abused his good faith.
As a result of all these direct threats, Mr. Kambale is now in hiding and fears for his life and that of his family.
In view of the above, RWB and JED urge you to clearly disown the threats that have been made against journalists and to use all your prerogatives in order to guarantee Mr. Kambale’s physical safety. We further ask you to put a stop to all the acts of intimidation and harassment against RACOU’s journalists.
Our two organizations will in any case hold the M23 armed movement, which you lead, responsible for anything unfortunate that may befall this journalist and his family.
We thank you in advance for taking account of our request.
Reporters Without Borders
Journalist in Danger
Download the letter in french (PDF) :
Photos : M23 soldiers (Melanie Gouby / AFP)