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Journalists Targeted in Eastern Congo Violence

Displaced people who fled clashes between the Congolese army and M23 rebels try to return to their homes in Kibumba, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on June 1, 2022.

Increased attacks by rebel group M23 in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has forced journalists to go into hiding. The group controls the Bunagana area near the Rwandan and Ugandan borders.

Two journalists working at a community radio station were detained after their station went off air in mid-June. They were tortured and told they would be killed if they continue working with the government army.

Journalists in the DRC say M23 accuses reporters and civilians of working with government soldiers, informing them about the group’s activities.

The M23 spokesman denied any attacks on journalists in an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last week.

The Voice of Mikeno (RACOM), a community radio station in Bunagana, was vandalized after M23 rebels took control of the key border town June 13. The rebels allegedly took a transmitter, solar panels, computers and other equipment.

RACOM, a VOA affiliate, has been off the air since then, and all its 20-plus staff members are in hiding.

One RACOM journalist spoke to VOA’s Swahili Service after requesting anonymity to protect his safety.

Identified as “Oscar,” he said he was detained by M23 members while interviewing residents in Nyakabande refugee camp in Kisoro, Uganda. He said he later learned from colleagues that another RACOM journalist, Henry Hererimana Serushago, was detained from the same camp on the same day.

Oscar and Serushago were tied up beaten, kicked and whipped – and threatened with death if he talked about the mistreatment, he told CPJ in an interview. He was released on July 5.

Eastern Congo, which borders Rwanda, lives under daily threat since M23 surged into action late last year.

In a report last week, HRW blamed M23 for the deaths of 29 civilians, including two teenagers, since mid-June. Some of those killed were shot as they attempted to flee. Others were executed at close range.

“Since the M23 took control of several towns and villages in North Kivu in June, they’ve committed the same kind of horrific abuses against civilians that we’ve documented in the past,” HRW said.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in DRC – which includes civilians, police and military personnel – has around 12,400 troops and costs more than $1 billion per year. It has been gradually withdrawing from the area for several years.

Civilians and U.N. peacekeepers have been killed in recent protests against the United Nations peacekeeping mission. Protesters claim the mission has failed to protect civilians from militia violence.

Information in this report came from Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.