CongoNews editor held without charge after criticizing archbishop

Nairobi, August 28, 2014An editor from the Democratic Republic of Congo has been held by police without charge for a week in connection with libel allegations over a column published in the privately owned bi-weekly CongoNews, according to local journalists and news reports.

Michael Mukebayi was arrested by four plain-clothed police officers in his home in Bandalungwa, a suburb of the capital Kinshasa, at 7 a.m. on August 21. The police had an arrest warrant for Mukebayi and the paper’s publication director, John Tshingombe, according to the DRC-based press freedom group, the Africa Observatory for the Freedom of the Press (OLPA). The group said that Tshingombe has gone into hiding.

The arrest stems from a public insult complaint filed on August 4 by Senator Francis Kaniki over an article he claimed was critical of Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, news reports said. Kaniki is the Cardinal’s younger brother. The article, published on July 18 with no byline, accused the archbishop of misusing the name of the Catholic Church to solicit funds, and of missing a forum in July by the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, a faith-based civil society group, according to news reports.

Mukebayi was held at the Kinshasa-Gombe detention center until Monday, when authorities transferred him to Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, according to news reports. OLPA said charges against the editor are expected to be filed next week.

“No journalist should go to prison for publishing an opinion, and such arrests have a chilling effect on the press,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “We call on Congolese authorities to release Michael Mukebayi immediately.”

Local and international journalists formed the “Free Mike Caucus” and held a protest on Monday morning in front of the Lindonge Catholic Centre, the seat of the archbishop, calling for Mukebayi’s release, organizer and local journalist Daniel Safu told CPJ.

The archbishop has issued a statement denying involvement in the case, according to news reports.

Congolese authorities have not followed legal procedures and should have issued a court summons instead of arresting Mukebayi, Paul Nsapu, Africa secretary-general for the International Federation for Human Rights, told French broadcaster Radio France Internationale. Congolese officials have not said why an arrest warrant rather than a summons was issued.

CPJ has documented a number of threats, arrests and acts of censorship by DRC authorities against the press recently as tensions mount before the 2016 presidential elections.