Police detained journalist Chilassy Bofumbo while he covered a protest in Mbandaka, a city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in November 2021. He is being held in pretrial detention for a variety of anti-state charges.
Bofumbo is the editor-in-chief of the local broadcaster Radio Télévision Sarah, and is also a correspondent for the Kinshasa-based Flash Info Plus news website and the Bukavu-based Radio l’Essentiel online broadcaster, according to local media reports.
He is also a member of the National Press Union of Congo (UNPC), a local professional group, and is a coordinator for FILIMBI, a nongovernmental organization that promotes civil participation among Congolese youth, according to a copy of his press card, which CPJ reviewed, and a statement by FILIMBI.
On November 18, police arrested Bofumbo in Mbandaka, the capital of the western province of Équateur, while he covered a protest calling for improved local governance and the dismissal of Équateur Governor Bobo Boloko Bolumbu by President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, according to those local media reports, a journalist familiar with his case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, and a lawyer representing Bofumbo, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Police then brought Bofumbo to a local court, where he was charged with contempt of authority, damaging imputations, public insults, rebellion, incitement of hatred, and incitement to civil disobedience, according to the journalist familiar with the case.
If convicted, Bofumbo faces up to 12 years in prison, his lawyer said.
Police held Bofumbo and several demonstrators overnight at a police station in Mbandaka, and the following day transferred him to the city’s central prison, that journalist said.
In photos from the protest, which CPJ reviewed and some of which were published by Flash Info Plus and FILIMBI, Bofumbo can be seen wearing a press vest marked with Radio Télévision Sarah’s logo. The journalist familiar with the case also told CPJ that Bofumbo identified himself as a journalist and showed his press card to the police during his arrest.
Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe, the director general of Radio Télévision Sarah, told CPJ by messaging app that the decision for Bofumbo to cover the demonstration had been made earlier that day at the broadcaster’s morning editorial meeting. Bofumbo was arrested “in the middle of a story,” Iwewe said.
“He was there to cover the protest,” Flash Info Plus editor Jean Marie Basa Ndjankolo told CPJ by phone. Bofumbo is the outlet’s representative in the area, and has editorial discretion to cover events that he believes are newsworthy, Basa Ndjankolo said.
Flash Info Plus also published a condemnation of the arrest.
Bofumbo appeared in court again on November 19 and 26, and he submitted a request for provisional release, according to the journalist familiar with the case. He is being tried alongside the others arrested at the protest, that journalist said.
On November 29, Bofumbo’s request for release was denied, and the case was sent for review to the Court of Cassation in Kinshasa, the capital, a process that may take weeks, his lawyer said.
The journalist familiar with the case said Bofumbo was not ill, but the conditions in detention were dirty and overcrowded. Detainees were required to pay to eat, that journalist said.
CPJ texted and sent questioned via messaging app to Bolumbu and Serge Musungu, the prosecutor who brought the case against Bofumbo, but did not receive any replies.