The Democratic Republic of Congo has banned a documentary of a surgeon who treats victims of rape prompting the film-makers to accuse the government of trying to curb a debate on sexual violence occurring in the country.
The documentary, L'Homme Qui Repare Les Femmes, which translates as The Man Who Mends Women, tells the story of gynecological surgeon Denis Mukwege, who operates on women who have been victims of rape during conflict. Mukwege, who in 2014 was awarded the Sakharov Prize for his work in protecting women and promoting human rights, founded the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in 1999. The area, on the border with Rwanda, is marred by widespread violence with various factions fighting over the hegemony of the territory and its resources.
Mukwege, who has been working in Bukavu for more than 15 years, specialises in repairing the damage caused by gang rapes. It is believed he has assisted some 40,000 women, the majority of whom had been sexually abused.
The 113-minute-long documentary, produced by Les Films de la Passerelle and co-financed by Belgium's foreign affairs ministry and the International Organisation of La Francophonie, was schedulded to be screened in Congo this week. It is not clear why the country's media minister Lambert Mende Omalanga decided to stop the screening.
"The banning of the scheduled screening of this film is a way of gagging [Mukwege] ... and [the voice] of the victims of these wars and tragedies that the country has lived through for 20 years," Belgian co-producer Thierry Michel was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The Panzi Foundation, which works to end violence against women in Congo, told IBTimes UK: "It's a beautiful film highlighting the stories of the people served. The hospital staff does a phenomenal work. It's important that these people's voices are heard. Their stories are so important."
The foundation released a statement after learning that the documentary had been banned in Congo. It read: "We are disheartened to learn that the critically-acclaimed film The Man Who Mends Women – The Wrath of Hippocrates will not be allowed to premiere in Kinshasa, or anywhere in the DRC.
"It is our sincere hope that all who wish to see this film have the opportunity to do so. Each of the more than 40,000 women and girls served, nearly 20,000 of whom are survivors of rape and the most traumatic sexual violence observed in a conflict zone, deserve to have their voices heard and their lives honoured."
In 2014, a report by Save the Children warned that Congo is one of the worst places to be a mother while the UN dubbed the African nation as the worst place to be a woman as rape, maternity mortality, gender inequality and lack of healthcare are rampant across the country.
News of the ban came shortly after former Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda – accused, among other things of raping child soldiers and keeping women and girls as sex slaves – pleaded not guilty during the first day of his trial at the Hague, Netherlands.