Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Congo
As of December 31, 1998


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Ongoing fighting between numerous ethnic-based militias such as the Cobras, which support head of state Denis Sassou-Nguesso, and the Zoulous, loyal to ousted President Pascal Lissouba, has terrorized civilians and claimed thousands of lives. Among the casualties this year was Fabien Fortune Bitoumbo, a correspondent for the state-owned Radio Liberté. Bitoumbo was accompanying the minister of mining and industry on a trip to an area controlled by the Ninja militia group, which is loyal to Bernard Kolelas, a former prime minister and sometime Lissouba ally, when the entourage was taken hostage. On August 29, Ninja members executed Bitoumbo, solely because he was a journalist, shooting him at point-blank range.

The media are required to "show loyalty to the government" by order of a 1995 statute, which allows the seizure of printing presses during political emergencies. A 1996 press law requires the independent press to obtain commercial licenses and imposes exorbitant penalties for slander and defamation. The state retains control of electronic media with the exception of one radio station operated by Sasssou-Nguesso's political allies.

Journalists practice self-censorship in this treacherous environment, knowing they are potential targets of all the warring militia factions. In September, uniformed men raided the offices of the independent magazine La Rue Meurt and seized its computers. At year's end, as gun battles flared between the Ninja and Cobra militias in Brazzaville, many independent newspapers permanently ceased publishing.
Attacks on the Press in Congo in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
9/5/98 La Rue Meurt Harassed
8/29/98 Fabien Fortune Bitoumbo, Radio Liberte, La Rue Muert Killed

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