France has demanded explanation from Congo for the assault of Le Monde and AFP journalists by men posing as police officers in Brazzaville on Wednesday while they covered the presidential election.
“Our ambassador has immediately intervened with the authorities to ensure that all light is shed on this incident,” Romain Nadal, spokesperson of the French foreign ministry said during his daily press briefing.
The three journalists accredited to cover the presidential election on Sunday, were attacked by four men in civilian clothes as they were leaving the home of opposition candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, who had contested the official preliminary results of the vote before the press after incumbent President Denis Sassou Nguesso was declared winner with over 67% of votes.
The men identified themselves as police officers, but refused to show them their business cards. The journalists were manhandled and a reporter from AFP was slapped in the face. They were also robbed of their professional equipment – including camera – and personal belongings: phones and identity papers.
Alerted by the cries for help, police came to the scene but did not intervene.
The French ambassador called for the intervention of the authorities “so that their personal effects are immediately returned,” said Romain Nadal who added that “France reiterates its worldwide support for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
The United States has also condemned the attack on the journalists in a statement signed by the spokesperson of the State department, Mark Toner, calling on the Congo government “to ensure the respect for freedom of expression, assembly and movement.”
The US official also “urged the security forces to remain professional and continue to show restraint.”
The three journalists have recovered most of their belongings which were returned Thursday morning to their hotel but their cameras lacked memory cards on which was recorded, among others, the briefing of General Mokoko.
At mid-day Thursday, the three journalists were received by the Minister of Communication and Congolese Media, Thierry Moungalla, spokesman of the Congo Government.
“We strongly condemn the aggression you faced as journalists in your work. We will discuss with the relevant departments for the matter to be clarified,” Mr. Moungalla told the journalists urging them to lodge a complain.
On Tuesday, France denounced the “disturbing context” in which the presidential elections in Congo took place, where communications were cut, highlighting the “transparency” and “fairness” of the poll in its former colony.