Kinshasa, September 11, 2023—Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, return his devices, and stop arresting journalists in connection with their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On Friday, September 8, around 10:30 p.m., two Congolese national police officers arrested Bujakera, a reporter for the privately owned Jeune Afrique news website and Reuters, as well as deputy director of publication for the local news website Actualite.cd, at the N’djili international airport in Kinshasa, the capital, according to a report from the privately owned Le Congo Libere news website and Hervé Diakiese, Bujakera’s lawyer, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
The officers took Bujakera to the local police station, confiscated his two phones and laptop computer, and accused him of “spreading false rumors” and “disseminating false information,” according to those sources.
Diakiese told CPJ on Monday, September 11, that Bujakera’s case had been transferred to the office of the Kinshasa-Gombe public prosecutor for investigation.
“DRC authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Stanis Bujakera and halt the unabated pattern of arresting journalists over publications deemed undesirable,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa program coordinator, in Durban, South Africa. “Laws in the DRC should be swiftly reformed to prevent the criminalization of journalism and the jailing of journalists.”
According to Diakiese and reports by Jeune Afrique and Actualité.cd, while Bujakera was in police custody on Saturday, September 9, officials investigating the July murder of former Congolese Transport Minister Chérubin Okende interrogated the journalist for several hours about a Jeune Afrique report that raised questions about the military intelligence’s possible involvement in that murder. That report, published on August 31, did not carry Bujakera’s name and indicated only that it had been written by Jeune Afrique.
On September 4, DRC Minister of Communication and Media Patrick Muyaya called Jeune Afrique’s August 31 report “totally false.” The following day, Peter Kazadi, deputy prime minister and minister of interior, security, and customary affairs, wrote a letter to Jeune Afrique’s leadership, which CPJ reviewed, calling the same article “false information.”
Earlier this year, Congolese authorities enacted a new press law and digital code that criminalize the sharing of information deemed “false.”
In March, Congolese Minister of Defense Gilbert Kabanda filed, and then withdrew, a criminal complaint accusing Bujakera of publishing false rumors for quoting Kabanda in a tweet. In 2022, Bujakera and two other reporters received threats over their coverage of the conflict in eastern DRC.
Separately, on August 18, police forced their way into the offices of the privately owned Perfect TV broadcaster in Kinshasa, arrested the outlet’s director general, Peter Tiani, and detained him overnight at the local police station, according to a report by the privately owned Libre Grand Lac news website and Tiani, who spoke by phone with CPJ. Police, who told Tiani that he was being questioned as an “informer” on Okende’s killing, released him unconditionally the day after his arrest, according to those sources.
According to media reports and a police invitation reviewed by CPJ, police had summoned Tiani on July 18 in connection with a post on X, formerly Twitter, that police claimed the journalist had published about Okende being abducted before his killing. Tiani told CPJ he did not report to the police at that time because he had not made such a post.
CPJ calls to Kinshasa’s police commissioner, General Blaise Kilimbalimba, rang unanswered.
In 2018, Tiani was arrested and detained for over a month in connection with reporting on alleged government corruption.