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Prominent photojournalist gunned down in DR Congo

A respected freelance photojournalist in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was gunned down by unidentified men in army uniforms on Thursday evening as he returned home from covering a local conference on environmental protection.

Patrick Kikuku Wilungula was a freelance photojournalist working in Goma in eastern DRC for national news agency Agence Congolaise de Presse (ACP) and Kinshasa-based weekly L’Hebdo de l’Est. According to eyewitnesses, he was going home around 7:30 pm when he was arrested by two armed men in military uniforms, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported. Kikuku was attempting to run away when one of the men shot him in the head.

“We condemn the brutal killing of Patrick Kikuku Wilungula, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and colleagues,” said Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Executive Director. “We call on the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into this murder and urge them to pursue all possible leads to find Kikuku's killer.”

“DRC is now the most dangerous place for journalists in Africa after Somalia,” said Gabriel Baglo, Director of the IFJ Africa Office. “We firmly condemn this murder and we call on the authorities of DRC to conduct a serious investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice. The impunity for journalists’ killers must end.”

“The Congolese press has seen several of its members murdered recently and now it is in mourning yet again, but the government makes no serious attempt to put a stop to this violence,” Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “Like us, Kikuku’s family and colleagues can only call for the murderers to be identified and punished, without much hope of seeing this happen. The inability of the Congolese authorities to render justice to the victims of violence makes this kind of tragedy possible.”

Hundreds of people of the North Kivu border town of Goma lined the streets Friday to salute Kikuku, who was killed by a single bullet fired into his left eye after a confrontation with unidentified gunmen, according to local journalists. The killers fired into the air as they fled the scene with the journalist’s digital camera—leaving behind other valuables, including 13,000 Congolese francs (US$30) in cash and a mobile phone.

Local press freedom groups Journaliste en Danger, the Congolese Press Union, and Goma’s association of photographers said they were investigating possible motives of the killing, but were puzzled that the killers only seized a common camera, they told CPJ.

Kikuku was an active member of the Nationale Association of the Press of Congo (UNPC). Gabriel Lukeka, President of the section of North Kivu of UNPC, told IFJ that he was with Kikuku the day before his killing and had not heard about any intimidation or threats against his murdered colleague.

Kikuku had distinguished himself from other, mostly commercial, photographers in Goma, with his focus on photojournalism, contributing to several local publications, said César Balume, the president of Goma’s association of photographers. He had been the official photographer of former North Kivu Governor Eugene Serufuli, CPJ reported.

Wilingula, 39, and a father of eight children, was the fourth journalist killed in the DRC since 2005, after Franck Ngyke Kangundu, Bapuwa Mwamba, and Serge Maheshe, according to CPJ research. While authorities apprehended suspects in each case, investigations and subsequent trials never determined any link between the murders and the journalists’ work.

In the aftermath of historic presidential and general elections this year, CPJ has documented an unprecedented nationwide spate of attacks and harassment of the media by DRC government security forces and officials as authorities struggled to deal with rampant crime. CPJ named the DRC this year one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.

IFJ also renewed its call for the release of Michel Shango and Vincent Hata, two journalists and trade unionists at state-owned Congolese National Radio and Television station (RTNC) who have been detained since July 27 in connection with their trade union activities.

A delegation of the National Trade Union of the Professionals of the Press (SNPP) of DRC Friday met the prosecutor. “The prosecutor asked us to pay 300 US dollars in bail. The SNPP and the two families of our colleagues paid this bail and the prosecutor has promised that they will be set free by tomorrow,” said Stanis Nkundiye, SNPP Secretary-General.

Date posted: August 12, 2007 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 10