DR Congo curbs French radio station RFI in tense vote

02 January 2019 - 15:10 By afp
Protesters waiting to cast their ballot, demonstrate outside the College St Raphael polling station, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on December 30 2018.
Protesters waiting to cast their ballot, demonstrate outside the College St Raphael polling station, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on December 30 2018.
Image: Luis TATO / AFP

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Wednesday said it had pulled accreditation for a French radio journalist and cut off the station's broadcasts amid tensions over the counting of votes in crucial elections.

The authorities said accreditation for the Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent in Kinshasa, Florence Morice, had been withdrawn.

Government spokesperson Lambert Mende accused Morice of violating electoral law and "the code of good conduct for foreign journalists covering the elections".

Accusing the station of stirring controversy, he said, "RFI's broadcasts have been cut off in all of Congo's cities."

"We are not going to let a radio station throw petrol on the flames at a time when we are waiting for the compilation of the provisional results," Mende said.

RFI, a French public-service broadcaster, has a very large audience in the DRC, a French-speaking country of around 80 million people.

It has been closely covering Sunday's presidential elections and the marathon vote tally.

RFI issued a statement saying its coverage had been impartial and expressing full support for Morice.

Independent National Election Commission (CENI) workers load a truck with voting materials in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, on December 28 2018.
Independent National Election Commission (CENI) workers load a truck with voting materials in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, on December 28 2018.
Image: Fredrik Lerneryd / AFP

She had been "merely working as a professional journalist," it said, and urged the authorities to reverse their decision to withdraw her accreditation.

On Tuesday, RFI said that its broadcasts had been blocked since Monday evening.

Suspicions 

The elections will determine who succeeds President Joseph Kabila, at the helm of sub-Saharan Africa's biggest country for nearly 18 years.

Kabila refused to step down after his two-term constitutional limit ended in 2016, sparking protests that were quelled at the cost of scores of lives.

Among the DRC's opposition, suspicions run deep that the vote will be rigged to let his preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, be declared winner.

Mende said RFI had been "declaring results (and) trends" as the vote count unfolded.

"Only the head of CENI can proclaim" these, he said, referring to the Independent National Electoral Commission, in charge of overseeing the elections and the count.

On Monday, the authorities cut off access to the internet, a move that opposition activists said sought to gag communications and stifle transparency.

An adviser to Kabila, Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, said the move targetted the dissemination of "fake figures" to avert a "popular uprising."

The European Union, US, Canada and Switzerland urged the government to restore access.

The DRC has a long history of turmoil, and many fear a bloodbath if the elections go badly wrong.

The mineral-rich country has never had a peaceful handover of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Millions of people died from fighting, starvation and disease in two full-fledged wars between 1996 and 2003, and bloodshed marred elections in 2006 and 2011.

Preliminary results are due by Sunday, and definitive results by January 15, with the next head of state due to be sworn in January 18. Legislative and municipal elections took place alongside the presidential ballot.

According to a survey by Afriscope/TNS Sofres quoted by RFI, the French radio station has 40 percent of listeners in the DRC.


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