Kinshasa, June 6, 2022 – Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must ensure the safety of journalists Stanis Bujakere, Steve Wembi, and John Lungila and investigate the threats made against them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Monday.
Since Monday, May 30, Bujakere, a reporter with privately owned, France-based Jeune Afrique news site, Reuters, and Congolese online outlet actualité.cd, Lungila, a reporter with local, privately owned Educ TV broadcaster, and Wembi, a freelance reporter, have repeatedly received threats, including of death, and insults via social media and telephone calls accusing them of supporting Rwanda in relation to the conflict in the DRC’s east, they told CPJ in interviews via messaging app and phone.
The journalists said many of the people posting and calling claimed to be supporters of the ruling Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). Bujakere added that he was called and threatened with death by members of the government and advisers to President Félix Tshisekedi. Bujakere said he knew some of the callers but requested the officials’ names not be made public for fear of retaliation.
The three journalists, who frequently publish their reporting on Twitter, had recently posted statements made by Rwandan government officials in relation to the conflict in the eastern DRC, where the M23 and other rebel groups are fighting the DRC government. Congolese authorities have accused Rwanda of supporting M23, according to news reports. The journalists told CPJ they were accused on social media and during the phone calls of being supporters of the Rwandan government and M23.
“DRC authorities should ensure the safety of journalists Stanis Bujakere, Steve Wembi, and John Lungila, and hold government officials and ruling party supporters making death threats to account,” said Angela Quintal CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Threats against journalists working in the DRC send a chilling message that not all matters of public interest are safe to report on.”
In one of the posts on May 30, a copy of which CPJ reviewed, a Twitter account with the handle @ZacharieMbaya_1, which has more than 10,000 followers, published photos of Bujakere, Wembi, and Lungila along with the message, “If today I am asked to kill three corrupt Congolese journalists, I will kill these three journalists.” Hours after it was posted, the tweet was taken offline.
On May 31, Wembi said he filed a complaint against Mbaya, who was not identified in the complaint beyond the name attached to the Twitter account, at the Kinshasa/Gombe Court of Appeal. According to a copy of the complaint published by the privately owned Ouragan online news site, Wembi’s lawyer requested that authorities “guarantee the safety of my client and to dismantle the mafia network of which the accused [Mbaya] is a bridgehead.”
@ZacharieMbaya_1’s account did not permit direct messages and CPJ was not able to find any additional contact information to reach the user.
Reached over the phone by CPJ, Gaby Kuba, the National President of the National Press Union of Congo (UNPC), said that the threats should be taken seriously and that the Congolese courts should investigate.
CPJ’s calls to Patrick Muyaya, the DRC Minister of Communication and Media, and to Tina Salama, President Tshisekedi’s deputy spokesperson, went unanswered.