Kinshasa, January 24, 2024—Authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo should immediately release journalists Blaise Mabala and Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, drop legal proceedings against them, and reform the country’s laws to ensure journalism is not criminalized, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On December 29, 2023, police officers arrested Mabala at a provincial police station in the town of Inongo, the capital of the DRC’s western Mai-Ndombe province. He was there because he was offered an opportunity to interview the provincial police commissioner general, Louis Segond Karawa, according to Mabala’s lawyer, Fabrice Mangwele, and Maï Ndombe provincial youth council president Dali Moweni, who both spoke to CPJ.
On Wednesday, police transferred Mabala—coordinator of the privately owned Même moral FM broadcaster and correspondent for the privately owned news site okapinews.net—by boat to a holding cell at the Court of Cassation in Kinshasa, the capital, Mangwele and Moweni said. The transfer was ordered by the public prosecutor, and Mabala is expected to appear before the Kinshasa court on accusations of defamation and contempt against the governor of the province of Maï Ndombe Rita Bola, Mangwele told CPJ, though a court date has not been set.
Separately, journalist Bujakera remained in detention at Makala central prison in Kinshasa since his arrest on September 8, 2023. During a hearing on January 12, a court adjourned his case to February 2, when it is expected to rule on the appointment of new expert witnesses, according to media reports.
Bujakara faces several charges under the penal and digital code related to an August 31 Jeune Afrique report about the military intelligence’s possible involvement in the murder of a minister, which the outlet said Bujakera did not write.
“DRC journalists Blaise Mabala and Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala should be released without delay. Mabala should have never been jailed in October and November last year, let alone rearrested in December, and Bujakera has already been unjustly held for far too long,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa program coordinator, in New York. “The Congolese press cannot be free with the threat of arrest hanging over them, and the knowledge that at least two of their colleagues sit behind bars for their work.”
Mabala’s December 29 arrest and transfer relate to charges of insult filed against him in October over a radio program broadcast by Même Morale FM, during which listeners called in and criticized Rita Bola, the governor of Maï-Ndombe Province. Local police previously arrested Mabala on October 20, 2023, and conditionally released him on November 7.
CPJ’s calls to Bola and Karawa went unanswered.