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UN Reports Clampdown on Opposition and Media in DRC

FILE - Kinshasa residents read local newspapers.
FILE - Kinshasa residents read local newspapers.

A new U.N. report says there has been a clampdown this year on opposition, media and civil society in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report documents 20 extra-judicial killings by state agents after demonstrations in January, and more than 600 arbitrary arrests and detentions in connection with the electoral process between January and September.

The DRC government has said it rejects the whole U.N. report.

But its main author, U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in DRC Director Jose Maria Aranaz, told VOA the government published a higher figure for the number of people killed in the protests in January.

The government has in the past thanked his office for information, he added.

"Our information is shared with over 15 national authorities, from which we get letters back and correspondence from the authorities, either thanking us and sometimes rejecting the information," said Aranaz.

The report notes an increase in threats against media workers as well as human rights defenders and the government's political opponents.

As an example, it cites the intelligence service's arrest of news vendor Dido Zamangwana, who was selling a paper called C-News.

Mike Mukebayi, the editor of C-News, said Zamangwana is just a news vendor. He is the man who collects the paper from the printer and sells it in the street, and he's been held for four months, arbitrarily and without trial.

Mukebayi was himself jailed for 11 months last year and released just three days after his news vendor was arrested. His office is barricaded by police and he said it is a miracle he still manages to print some editions.

“Two people came to see me,” said Mukebayi, “to say that if I cooperated, not only would the news vendor be released, but also I could publish my paper, and they asked me how much money I wanted for a deal.”

He said he told them he is a journalist, not a politician, and cannot negotiate like that. He said he is running an investigative newspaper and he will carry on doing so in an independent way.

Mukebayi’s sentence was the longest imposed on any journalist here recently. C- News has published frequent exclusive stories that no other Congolese paper dared print.

In response to Mukebayi, Information Minister Lambert Mende told VOA that C-News does not exist in the "repertoire" at his ministry.

“Mukebayi will do anything just to harm this country's image,” he added.

Two journalists have been killed in the DRC this year and some 40 others detained because of their work, according to "Journalists in Danger," a Congolese media rights organization.