Cablegate: Eu, Switzerland and U.S. Tell Communications

Published: Mon 30 Nov 2009 04:14 PM
DE RUEHKI #1044/01 3341614
O 301614Z NOV 09
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: Kinshasa 969 and previous
1. (SBU) Summary: Ambassadors of Sweden, Spain, plus local EU
Commission head and U.S. DCM, met November 27 with
Communications/Media Minister Lambert Mende to press for a halt to
Congolese government's (GDRC) harassment of foreign journalists.
Led by Swedish ambassador as current EU president, the demarche
focused on three areas: (1) subjecting accredited journalists to
military regulations; (2) intimidating journalists; and (3)
preventing Radio France International from broadcasting in the DRC.
An aide-memoire was given to the minister summarizing these points
(translation of aide-memoire is at para. 8 below). Minister was
uncharacteristically amiable and gave assurances the GDRC fully
supports freedom of press, promising (unspecified) measures to
address concerns. We suspect that Lambert, an experienced Congolese
political survivor, may not be completely sincere, although the
Government may in fact let up somewhat on harassing foreign
journalists because of pressure from the international community.
End summary.
Yet another demarche on media harassment
2. (SBU) Swedish ambassador recently invited U.S., Switzerland,
and Canada to join EU (reps of outgoing/incoming presidents plus the
Commission) in carrying out a demarche vis-a-vis the GDRC's
Communications/Media minister over developments that adversely
affect freedom of the press. Swedish ambassador agreed he would
draft an aide-memoire to be left with the minister. (Note: French
ambassador told DCM November 28 that he and his staff drafted the
aide-memoire, a translation of which is found at para. 8 below. End
note.) The meeting with Mende follows on the heels of several
previous meetings with the minister, including U.S. and MONUC
demarches (reftel).
3. (SBU) Demarche took place November 27 at Minister Lambert
Mende's office. Canada was unable to join at the last minute.
Giving the impression that he was in an impatient mood, Mende led
off with the highly bureaucratic formula: "Je vous ecoute (I am
listening)." Swedish ambassador began, noting the "grave concern"
of all delegation members regarding the status of press freedom in
the Congo. He averred that the Government's campaign against
freedom of the press was in violation of the DRC's constitution. He
then referred in detail to each of the three areas of greatest
worry: (1) military accreditation of journalists; (2) an increase
in threats against journalists; and (3) the closure by the DRC
officials of Radio France International. Spanish ambassador added
that the alleged justification for clamping down on the press as
given by Mende -- the war in the Congo's eastern region -- was
unjustified as President Kabila in a meeting earlier in the week
with several ambassador, stated that the war was essentially over
and life had almost returned to normal in the east. (Note: Cable
on meeting with Kabila will follow septel. End note.).
4. (SBU) EU Commission representative focused mostly on threats and
intimidation. Swiss ambassador limited his remarks almost
exclusively to threats against and harassment of Radio Okapi, the UN
radio network that is funded primarily by Swiss NGO "Fondation
Hirondelle." He read from a letter dated November 1 he had received
QHirondelle." He read from a letter dated November 1 he had received
from Radio Hirondelle Director General Jean-Marie Etter in which
Etter mentions several alleged threats against Radio Okapi
journalists. U.S. DCM stated that the ambassador's absence (the
meeting was announced the day before, Thanksgiving, and the
ambassador was unable to change his schedule to attend) in no way
diminished the importance of our support for the demarche; that the
U.S. was supportive of everything said by previous speakers; and
that freedom of the press was a sacred principle in the United
States, one that could not be violated even in times of war.
Mende replies; conciliatory tone latest tactic
--------------------------------------------- -
5. (SBU) Mende was ready to respond. Adopting an
uncharacteristically conciliatory, even friendly tone, he began by
noting that "the many years of struggle by the Congolese people to
achieve democracy was also a struggle for freedom of the press." He
said he had suffered personally as a result of tyranny, becoming an
exile for 10 years to be free; the president was himself a victim of
tyranny and had grown up in a neighboring country to escape tyranny.
He acknowledged that the constitution's reference to press freedom
was inconsistent with the recent order that military tribunals would
rule in cases of allegations that journalists had not followed the
rules about what they can report; the country was in a war and it
KINSHASA 00001044 002 OF 003
would take time for the lawmakers to change powers previously given
to the military during a time of war. He also argued that although
military tribunals were empowered to rule in this kind of case, no
journalists had been brought before a court martial and probably
none ever would. He accepted the Spanish ambassador's point that
President Kabila had said the war was all but over but noted that
since the government still did not control many areas and it was in
journalists' own interest to avoid certain places.
6. (SBU) Mende continued, asserting that the allegations made by
Radio Hirondelle were "news to me." He said he was outraged that
journalists were subjected to the treatment described by Etter and
wanted more information to conduct investigations into these
incidents. He bragged that Congolese radio stations were angry with
him because he was such a fan of Radio Okapi, "the only station in
the country that I do interviews with." Mende asserted (rather
disingenuously to many present) that the GDRC had ordered cell phone
providers to make available a list of all cell phone owners so that
threats, like those against Radio Okapi journalists, could be
traced. (Note: Disingenuously, because it is also clear that some
in the GDRC want to obtain names of cell phone owners for other
purposes. End note.) Finally, Mende was evasive on the issue of
RFI. He stated that this issue was with President Kabila himself
and that an RFI office would soon open in Kinshasa, ostensibly to
defuse differences between the government and the international
media outlet before they cause tension.
7. (SBU) Comment: Many remarked after the meeting that they had
never seen this facet of Mende's usually antagonistic, aggressive
personality. While Mende offered no specifics on addressing the
diplomats' concerns, the minister's tone of voice and out of
character conciliatory manner, however, suggested he has been
instructed to lower the temperature on this controversy and meet
westerners part way. We would not be surprised to see the
government ratchet down the hostile rhetoric for a while, not apply
any military regulations gainst reporting in the war zone, and
even, perhaps, allow RFI to begin rebroadcasting as long as the RFI
office in Kinshasa is willing to urge its journalists exercise more
restraint when criticizing Kabila. This story is not over and we
will continue with our updates. End comment.
Text of Aide-Memoire
8. (U) Following is unofficial translation from the French of the
aide-memoire given Minister Mende by Swedish ambassador Johan
Begin aide-memoire
Swedish Embassy
European Union Presidency
Aide-Memoire by Chiefs of Diplomatic Missions of the European Union,
the United States, Canada and Switzerland in the Democratic Republic
of the Congo
We note with deep concern the deterioration of press freedom over
recent months in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These
concerns were raised during a lunch with the Minister of
Communication and Media on October 20, 2009. The issues are (1) the
question of legal authority of journalistic accreditation granted by
the Minister of Communication and Media, (2) the increase of threats
and attacks on working journalists, and (3) the shutting down of
Qand attacks on working journalists, and (3) the shutting down of
Radio France International's signal.
- 1. Legal authority of accreditations:
Since the end of August, 2009, the accreditation of international
journalists working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo holds
those journalists subject to Article 87 of the law 024-2002 of the
Military Code of Justice concerning offenses against the armed
forces. To us, it appears that nothing justifies such a
requirement, which introduces permanent limitations into existing
agreements. Nor is there any justification for subjecting
journalists, regardless of their nationality, to military courts.
Whereas Articles 23 and 24 of the Constitution of the Democratic
Republic of the Congo guarantee freedom of expression and free
access to information, and international journalists are
professionals, already bound by a strict code of ethics, we ask that
this measure be withdrawn from the conditions required for
KINSHASA 00001044 003 OF 003
- 2. Increase in threats and attacks against working journalists
In the past few months, several journalists have been the targets of
threats and/or attacks related to the work they perform. While
these cases remain relatively rare and isolated, they are increasing
at an unacceptable rate and raise our concerns that journalists are
not able to cover the news in a thorough fashion. We also note that
many threats are being made and pressure exerted against journalists
working for Radio Okapi. We condemn this serious attack against
freedom of expression.
- 3. Shutting down Radio France International's signal
Despite the announcement of renewed discussions between the
Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Radio France
International, which has a large audience in this country, we note
that four months after being cut, Radio France International's
signal has still not been re-established. We ask that the signal of
Radio France International be re-established immediately throughout
the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
End aide-memoire
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