Burundian journalist arrested in Democratic Republic of Congo

New York, October 19, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention of Egide Mwemero, a Burundian journalist who, according to the managing director of his radio station and local reports, was arrested in Uvira in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on October 13.

Mwemero, a reporter for the independent Burundian station Radio Publique Africaine, was arrested at the offices of Radio le Messager du Peuple alongside Congolese reporters Manzambi Mupenge and Lucien Kanana, according to reports. Mupenge and Kanana were released two days later, reports said. It is not clear why the journalists were arrested and if they face any charges.

Community station Radio le Messager du Peuple had partnered with Radio Publique Africaine to broadcast its politics show “Humura Burundi,” according to the same report. Unrest in Burundi earlier this year, in which several radio station were forced off air and had equipment damaged, forced Radio Publique Africaine to stop broadcasting from Burundi, according to reports. The Congolese station stopped broadcasting the show on October 9 on the orders of Congolese authorities, a local report said. No reason for the order was given, according to reports.

Mwemero has been living in exile since he fled unrest in Burundi after an attempted coup on May 13, Bob Rugurika, managing director of Radio Publique Africaine, told CPJ. Rugurika confirmed today that Mwemero was still in custody.

President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo has maintained good relations with Burundi. After the attempted coup in Burundi, he called for peaceful elections in his own country, according to reports.

“Radio is a vital information source for people in this region and journalists should be allowed to do their jobs,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. “We are extremely concerned that Egide Mwemero is being held without any public disclosure of charges against him and we urge Democratic Republic of Congo authorities to release him immediately.”

One day after this alert was published Lambert Mende, minister for communications and media in the Democratic Republic of Congo, told CPJ that Mwemero had been arrested for broadcasting foreign radio without prior authorization, and for exercising professional activities without a license. Mende added: “The Democratic Republic of Congo is not a jungle where anything goes.”

Journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo are often faced with a hostile environment, and the government has attacked press freedom in an effort to silence critics or dissenting opinions, CPJ research shows. In January, authorities briefly blocked Internet and cellphone service throughout the country; in March during a pro-democracy rally, government forces arrested about 30 individuals, several of whom were journalists covering the protest and some of whom reported being assaulted, according to CPJ research. The country is due to hold elections in November 2016.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The seventh paragraph of this alert has been updated to include the response to CPJ from Lambert Mende, the minister for communications and media in the Democratic Republic of Congo.