Dakar, March 21, 2022 — Authorities in the Republic of Congo should lift Sel-Piment’s suspension immediately and refrain from detaining journalists for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On December 30, 2021, police arrested Augias Ray Malonga, acting director of the privately owned newspaper Sel-Piment, at his home in Brazzaville, the capital, according to Malonga and Edouard Atzotsa, the secretary-general of the Trade Union Federation of Communication Workers of Congo-Brazzaville (FESYTRAC), both of whom spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Authorities held Malonga for seven days and then released him without charge, he told CPJ.
On January 20, 2022, the country’s state-run media regulator, the Superior Council for Freedom of Communication (CSLC), suspended Sel-Piment for six months over its republication of an article from a website run by government critics in exile, according to Malonga and news reports.
“Authorities in the Republic of Congo should immediately lift the suspension of Sel-Piment and refrain from arresting journalists for their work,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Journalists should be free to re-publish and report on issues of public interest without fearing that they may be detained or face sanction.”
On December 30, Malonga received a summons to appear the following day at the Brazzaville headquarters of the DGST, the country’s domestic security agency, he told CPJ; police then arrested him before he had a chance to comply.
The arrest was sparked by the paper’s December 27 republication of a report on alleged corruption by the country’s treasurer originally published by Congo-Liberty.com, a website run outside of the country that advocates for political change in the Republic of Congo, as well as another article also published in the December 27 edition criticizing management of the country’s economy, Malonga said.
During his detention, DGST head Phillipe Obara questioned Malonga about the source of the Congo-Liberty.com report and said that authorities did not appreciate that he was in contact with critics outside the country. Malonga told CPJ that he refused to answer questions about that report.
CPJ emailed the DGST for comment, but did not receive any reply.
Malonga was released on January 6, 2022, after CSLC President Philippe Mvouo intervened in his case, Malonga told CPJ. He said authorities did not tell him the exact reason for his release. CPJ emailed Mvouo and contacted him via messaging app for comment, but did not receive any response.
Atzotsa told CPJ that Malonga “was released under pressure from many press organizations” including the journalists’ union.
According to those news reports, the CSLC alleged that the republished article defamed the country’s treasurer, and therefore the newspaper would be suspended. CPJ sent questions to the Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Finances, Budget, and Public Portfolio for comment via email and through a contact form on its website, but received no response.
Sel-Piment is a satirical weekly newspaper known for its criticism of President Denis Sassou Nguesso and the ruling Congolese Party of Labor, according to news reports. Authorities previously suspended Sel-Piment in 2013 and 2021, and repeatedly arrested its editor, Malonga’s father Raymond Malonga.
Malonga became interim director of the newspaper after his father’s arrest in February 2021, he told CPJ.