afrol News, 5 March - For a second time this year, Congolese media are targeted for broadcasting information about dubious resource exploitation. The Kinshasa government has shut down a private broadcaster for reporting on a diamond mining accident.
Radiotélévision Amazone (RTA), a broadcaster based in Mbuji-Mayi, capital of East Kasai province, in the central region of Congo Kinshasa (DRC), was shut down on 1 March this year by order of East Kasai province Director Mutonj Mayand-a-Tshibang.
RTA officials had received notification of the decision via an official letter from the provincial director, according to the Kinshasa-based media watchdog Journaliste en danger (JED).
According to accounts by RTA journalists reached by JED via telephone, the private broadcaster is accused of airing "unpleasant comments" and "false news" on a local language programme called "Lubila lwa Mukrezaka" ("The Voice of the Digger"). The programme, which aired on 25 February, featured a contentious report on an incident that took place in late February in a mine run by the diamond mining firm Minière de Bakwanga (MIBA), in which several miners died.
According to the government, a group of clandestine diamond miners were buried alive when a mine caved in while they were in the tunnels. Seven miners were reportedly asphyxiated. However, other sources in Mbuji-Mayi who were contacted by RTA put the death toll at about 20. They reported that the miners were allegedly suffocated deliberately by a MIBA security team.
Two days prior to the station's closure, the programme "Lubila lwa Mukrezaka" was banned over the same MIBA mining deaths story, according to the Kinshasa media watchdogs.
The station's attention on the mining accident has been mirrored by locals and Kinshasa-based human rights organisations. Currently, a commission of inquiry is looking into the "suspicious circumstances" of the deaths of the miners, now estimated to be 25 persons.
Human rights activists have concurred with the miners' allegations that the police blocked the entry to a tunnel in which 25 unauthorised miners who had secretly entered the MIBA concession were hiding, resulting in their deaths by suffocation. MIBA and local authorities however still claim only 8 miners had died, and as the result of a cave-in, not a police action.
MIBA, owned 80 percent by the Congolese state and 20 percent by Sibeka (a subsidiary of the Société Générale de Belgique), is among the world's largest producers of industrial diamonds. The state-owned company has been in the UN's spotlight for illicit diamond trading to finance arms for government troops and its Zimbabwean allies.
This is the second time this year that Congolese authorities target journalists for reporting on the country's dubious diamond production and trade. In January-February, journalist Kadima Mukombe of 'Radio Kilimanjaro' was detained for one month for reportedly "insulting the army".
In his 30 December programme, the Congolese journalist had criticised local military leaders, accusing them of having become diamond traders and allowed their unsupervised troops to steal goods from the local population. To illustrate the problem, the journalist had interviewed diamond mine workers who described the harassment they face from certain soldiers.
Also the UN has documented parallel criminal activities among the Congolese troops in the region, which are common knowledge. Late last year, the Kinshasa government promised to look into the illegal diamond trade among its troops to avoid UN sanctions.
Sources: Based on Journaliste en danger (JED, Kinshasa), UN and afrol archives