CPJ calls on Congolese authorities to release Talassa editor

New York, January 13, 2017–Congolese authorities should immediately release Ghys Fortuné Dombé Bemba, editor of the privately owned newspaper Talassa, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The Republic of Congo’s security services arrested Bemba in Brazzaville on January 11, Radio France Internationale reported.

Congolese Public Prosecutor André Oko Ngakala said in a statement the following day that Bemba was under investigation for “complicity in undermining state security” in connection with Frédéric Bintsamou, also known as Pastor Ntumi, a former rebel leader who the government accuses of terrorism.

Congolese outlet Brazza News reported that officials visited Bemba at his office two days before his arrest in connection with several articles published in Talassa. After Bemba’s arrest, various news outlets reported that the journalist could have been detained because the paper had published a statement by Pastor Ntumi, been critical of the military, and had allegedly angered the head of the state-run press regulator.

“We call on Congolese authorities to immediately release Ghys Fortuné Dombé Bemba,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Journalists should be free to publish critical and opposing views without fear of arrest.”

Bemba is being held at a local police station, reports said. CPJ could not determine if he has been charged. The public prosecutor did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment.

Local news reports said Bemba’s arrest could have been linked to reports calling for Congolose authorities to force elderly military officials into retirement, and alleging wrongdoing by members of the military.

Radio France Internationale reported that Bemba had allegedly angered Philippe Mvouo, head of the press regulator High Council for Freedom of Communication, with an article in the latest edition of Talassa about an aborted meeting between Congo’s President Denis Sassou N’Guesso and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Mvouo told Radio France Internationale that Bemba’s arrest was not connected to his journalism.

Talassa has been previously targeted by authorities. In November 2007, CPJ documented how the High Council for Freedom of Communication suspended Talassa for two months in relation to an editorial critical of Congo’s president. It was suspended for four months in 2013, along with three other newspapers, CPJ reported.