Sunday, 15 April 2012

Chebeya Film Banned in Congo

Censurship is an ugly tactic of dictators.

Thierry Michel’s tragicomic film about the political assassination of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya has been banned in Congo.

After seeing the film, I was amazed that Michel had even been allowed to document the masquerade trail of Chebeya’s murderers.

But after its release in Europe and the US where it won numerous prizes such as the Grand Award at the International Human Rights Film Festival in Paris, Luzolo Bambi (Minister of Justice and Human Rights) formally requested the Congolese National Censorship Commission to ban the film’s distribution and showing. Why? Because certain sequences are allegedly disrespectful to President Kabila.

The trial’s outcome was disappointing. Lower-ranking henchmen were found guilty but the boss and probable godfather of the murder, John Numbi, was not put on trial. General Police Inspector Numbi was Kabila’s security boss from 2007 until his suspension in June 2010 following the international outcry caused by the murder. This native of North Katanga was not sacked but suspended and replaced by the Tutsi general Charles Bisengimana.

Very close to the president, Numbi was the architect of some special operations such as the joint Rwanda-Congo military operation in North Kivu and the bloody repression of the Bundu dia Kongo political religious movement in Bas-Congo. Numbi is too close to the president and knows too much to be put on trail.

The ban is an embarrassment for some European sponsors from France and Belgium that planned on showing the film in their cultural centers in Congo. It even puts into question holding the IOF Francophonie international jamboree in Kinshasa in October this year.

It would be shameful for the IOF to hold such an important summit in Congo until progress in the democratic process has been made.

The assassination of Floribert Chebeya - and Fidele Bazana who is commonly described as his driver but who in fact was a respected colleague of the Voix des Sans Voix leader is a hideous blemish on Joseph Kabila’s record.

It does however prove that some people in Congolese civil society refuse to be intimidated and dare to speak out. Chebeya’s fight, thanks in part to Thierry Michel’s documentary, lives on.

The US National Endowment for Democracy honored Floribert Chebeya posthumously with its Democracy Service Medal. Past awardees include Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and the Dalai Lama.

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