New York, September 6, 2011—Unidentified armed men today torched the studios of a private television station that aired programs favorable to Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, local journalists and news reports said.
At around 2 a.m., a dozen men threw tear gas into the studios of Radio Lisanga Télévision (RLTV), based in the capital, Kinshasa, and poured gasoline on the premises. They then used Molotov cocktails and incendiary grenades to set the station on fire, news reports said. Two RLTV employees escaped the flames by climbing onto the station’s rooftop through an air conditioning shaft, Mamie Mareza, the station’s news director, told CPJ.
“We condemn the political violence directed at Radio Lisanga Télévision based on its support for a candidate ahead of the presidential elections,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Congolese authorities must conduct serious and credible investigations into this criminal act.”
Witnesses allegedly identified one of the assailants as a member of the youth league of President Joseph Kabila’s ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), local journalists said. The owner of RLTV is a politician who supports Tshikedi, according to news reports. Political tensions have been rising between supporters of Kabila, the incumbent, and veteran opposition leader Tshikedi, who has formally registered to challenge Kabila in the presidential elections scheduled for November, according to news reports.
The station attack followed the ransacking of PPRD headquarters, which Kabila supporters blamed on members of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress party, news reports said. PPRD militants threatened revenge for the attack on their headquarters, Mareza said.
RLTV has been under recent pressure from the government and its supporters, CPJ research shows. In June, machete-wielding armed men injured the presenter of “Support Etienne Tshisekedi,” a nightly talk show. In July, authorities temporarily forced RLTV off the air on allegations of inciting violence. In August, the station received anonymous threats after broadcasting footage of empty rows of seats at a local stadium during the PPRD convention, news reports said.
Congolese Communication Minister Lambert Mende told CPJ he could not comment on the incident since he was out of the country.
CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide since 1981