Congolese journalist Patrick Lola is detained in the central prison of Mbandaka, the capital of western Equateur province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after being arrested on January 10, 2022, while covering a protest. The Court of Cassation in the capital, Kinshasa, granted Lola bail on August 19, 2022, but he remains in detention because he could not pay the bail amount.
Lola is a freelance reporter who has covered numerous topics, including business, corruption, crime, culture, human rights, and politics, for various outlets including Radio Télévision Sarah, E Radio, and Soleil Couchant Radio.
On January 10, 2022, Bobo Boloko Bolumbu, the governor of Equateur province, ordered the arrest of Lola and Christian Bofaya, a reporter for the privately owned E Radio, according to the journalists’ lawyer, Junior Bonoke, who spoke to CPJ by phone in September 2022.
According to news reports, Lola and Bofaya were covering a public protest organized by three provincial deputies whose election had been invalidated by the provincial assembly in October 2021. Police arrested the journalists and the three deputies for allegedly disturbing public order. The mayor of Mbandaka, Didi Edada, was quoted by Ouragan.cd as saying local authorities did not authorize the protest.
Bonoke told CPJ that the arrests and subsequent detentions of the journalists were politically motivated because the protests were organized by deputies who were critical of Bolumbu’s performance and had called for his termination as governor. CPJ has repeatedly documented DRC authorities arresting, beating, or harassing journalists covering protests.
After they were arrested, the journalists were escorted by Bolumbu to the police headquarters in Mbandaka, Bonoke told CPJ. After a few hours, the pair and the three arrested deputies were transferred to the military prosecutor’s office, where they spent two nights in custody.
On January 12, the journalists and deputies were taken to the Mbandaka Peace Court. The deputies refused to recognize the court’s authority because, as elected officials, they said they were subject to the jurisdiction of a higher court, Bonoke told CPJ. The five arrested individuals were all returned to prison, said Bonoke, adding that the governor escorted them at all times.
On January 16, the journalists and deputies appeared before the Mbandaka High Court, but the deputies challenged that court’s authority to hear the matter, saying they had already petitioned another court, and argued that the journalists’ cases had to be heard alongside theirs, Bonoke told CPJ.
Esther Nkonge, president of the Equateur chapter of the National Press Union of the Congo (UNPC), told CPJ by phone in April 2022 that they were working to secure the journalists’ release and had met with Bolumbu and his adviser.
On August 19, the Court of Cassation in the capital, Kinshasa, set the bail for Lola, Bofaya, and three organizers of those protests at 2 million Congolese francs (US$1,000) each, according to news reports, court documents reviewed by CPJ, and Jean-Claude Mafundisho, a lawyer representing both journalists, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
The protest organizers paid the bail and were released, but the journalists were unable to pay and remained in detention, according to those sources.
After the court decision on August 19, demonstrations broke out at Mbandaka Central Prison, where the defendants were held, Mafundisho told CPJ, adding that Bofaya escaped from prison during authorities’ subsequent crackdown on the inmates.
In May and November 2022, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Rossy Bolekwa, declined to comment beyond confirmation that Lola remained in detention, saying the matter was before the courts.
CPJ called the three protest organizers, Congolese government spokesperson and Minister of Communications Patrick Muyaya, and Justice Ministry deputy chief of staff Pélagie Ebeka for comment in August 2022, but no one answered.
CPJ reached Jean Pierre Wafwana, advisor to DRC President Felix Tshisekedi, by phone in late August 2022. Wafwana said he was unaware of Lola’s case but would look into the matter. CPJ’s subsequent calls and messages to Wafwana were unanswered.