Despite guarantees for freedom of expression in Zaire's constitution and the 1993 Transition Act, agents of President Mobutu Sese Seko's Special Presidential Division (DSP) and the Military Action and Intelligence Service (SARM) continue to intimidate, harass, detain, torture, and inflict grave human rights abuses on journalists and media officials. Harassment of the press has escalated, and the lack of protections for journalists combined with a weak, ineffectual judiciary provides journalists accused of press law violations with little legal recourse.
The government has used charges of sedition, disseminating false information, and jeopardizing national security to silence the press. Newspaper publishers are required to deposit copies of each issue with the ministry of information prior to publication, effectively promoting self-censorship among reporters and facilitating government censorship of unfavorable coverage. Foreign journalists who investigated charges that Zairean troops were pillaging Rwandan refugees camps were either deported or barred from leaving the country.
Newspaper circulation is limited to Kinshasa and a few other large cities, the result of a severely dilapidated infrastructure and a failing economy. Radio is the most effective means of communicating with the citizenry. Private radio stations, most of which carry Christian programs, have started broadcasting since the transition. The state has promised to fix non-functioning transmitters and increase the transmission power of government-owned radio and television in preparation for the national elections, but it remains to be seen whether opposition parties will be granted access to the state-owned media stations. A second state television station, Tele Zaire 2, was installed to broadcast cultural programs.
A constitutional referendum has been postponed to Feb. 1997, and elections that were originally scheduled for July 1995 have again been postponed, to May 1997. Despite plans to move toward a democratically elected government in the coming year, the outlook for local journalists remains bleak without an independent judiciary and an accountable internal security and police force.
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