DR Congo hits back at rights criticism
Democratic Republic of Congo hit back Wednesday at criticism of its human rights record, after Washington deprived it of trade privileges and a French envoy called it a "shipwreck."
US media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) meanwhile called for the release of a radio station chief it said had been detained over a current affairs debate he headed.
Kinshasa reacted angrily after the United States stripped it of its status as a favoured trading partner over its human rights record, saying the move was totally unjustified.
"The stated justification for this move is totally false," government spokesman Lambert Mende told a press conference in the capital.
In a decree issued on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama said he had "decided to terminate the designation of the DRC as a beneficiary" of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act from the end of the month.
The pact gives exports from the world's poorest countries of the continent duty-free status on the US market as long as they are regarded as making democratic advances.
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision had been taken as the Congolese security forces were still committing human rights abuses on a large-scale, highlighting the level of rapes.
But Mende said there could be no comparison between the number of abuses committed by the security forces and the various armed militias who have long been accused of widespread violations, particularly in eastern Congo.
"And when our boys do commit reprehensible acts, they are brought to justice," he added.
Mende also lashed out at French ambassador for human rights Francois Zimeray, who catalogued a host of abuses after a week-long visit to the country ending Saturday.
They included a prison in the eastern city of Goma "where 1,046 people were living in appalling conditions of overcrowding and hygiene," surviving on little more than a cup of beans a day during the week and nothing at weekends.
Zimeray said he also witnessed "the lot of women victims of sexual violence and the total lack of care by institutions."
"There have been powerful moments which have given me the feeling of a shipwreck situation in relation to human rights" in the country, he said.
But Mende blamed outside powers including France for "an economic war" against DR Congo, and forcing Kinshasa to open its borders in 1994 to Rwandan militia blamed for atrocities in the east of the country.
Zimeray "makes the DRC guilty of crimes of which it is a victim," he charged.
The CPJ said Robert Shemahamba, head of the local Radio Tele Mitumba station, was detained in the eastern city of Uvira on Friday by the National Intelligence Agency.
The case stems from a December 12 programme he headed in which three opposition politicians criticized Uvira municipal officials for alleged mismanagement, the CPJ said.
It said mayor Joseph Mbarato's administration ordered the show off the air Shemahamba was questioned for several hours by a local prosecutor and members of a municipal security council, according to local journalists.
Dominique Kalonzo, a local journalist who also participated in the programme, went into hiding after police summoned him for questioning concerning the show, the CPJ said.
It quoted Mbarato as accusing Shemahamba of allowing guests on the programme to "insult the head of state," referring to commentary critical of President Joseph Kabila.
The CPJ also quoted Mende as saying he had protested the arrest and called on the country's interior minister to resolve the matter. "'We don't have a political police in this country,' he added," the CPJ said.
© 2010 AFP