Congo journalists attacked at opposition lawyers' press conference

"I was attacked by people in plainclothes who struck me and took away my possessions, my microphone, dictaphone and my phone," he said, adding other reporters had also had their phones snatched.
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Unidentified men in plainclothes have assaulted a group of journalists in the Republic of Congo, including an AFP reporter, as they attended a press conference organised by the lawyers of a jailed opposition figure.

Laudes Martial Mbon, who also works for French radio station RFI, told AFP's bureau in Kinshasa in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo by phone that the press conference had to be cancelled Thursday.

"I was attacked by people in plainclothes who struck me and took away my possessions, my microphone, dictaphone and my phone," he said, adding other reporters had also had their phones snatched.

"Journalists and even bystanders were assaulted," he added.

The attack occurred outside the offices of the newspaper La Semaine Africaine in Congo's capital city Brazzaville, where lawyers for jailed opposition politician Andre Okombi Salissa planned to brief the press.

Along with four other opposition figures, Okombi Salissa had challenged President Denis Sassou Nguesso during polls last year.

He has been in jail since January on charges of "undermining internal security" and possessing "war weapons".

Contacted by AFP, government spokesman Thierry Moungalla said he was unaware of the incident.

But he said that if they were attacked "because they were journalists, I obviously condemn this aggression."

In October 2015, protests erupted after a constitutional referendum ended the two-term limit on presidential mandates that allowed Sassou Nguesso to successfully run for re-election in March 2016.

The unrest went on for weeks and in the days immediately before the referendum at least four people were killed in clashes between protesters and security forces.

Sassou Nguesso, 74, a former paratrooper, served as president from 1979 to 1992, returning to power in 1997 following a civil war. He won two successive terms in elections in 2002 and 2009, both of which were disputed by opposition parties.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks Congo as 115th out of 180 countries on its world press freedom index.

While several privately-owned channels and newspapers exist, "they are all under strong pressure to censor themselves and many of them are owned by government allies", according to RSF's website.

"The country seems pluralistic but this is just a facade," it adds.

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