Tharcisse Zongia, editor-in-chief of the satirical weekly Le Grognon, was arrested on September 6, 2018, in the Kinkole district of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to Zongia’s lawyer, Yves Luteke.
Zongia was convicted and sentenced in absentia to 12 months in jail for defamation in November 21, 2016, for publishing on February 19, 2015, an article in Le Grognon—which was seen by CPJ—accusing a minister of allegedly embezzling public funds, according to L’Objectif, a privately owned online news outlet, and Fabrice Konzi, another lawyer representing the journalist.
The defamation charge stemmed from a complaint that Okito filed to the Kinkole district court, according to Luteke.
Nearly two years after the conviction, on June 6, 2018, Kipulu Yamba, Kinshasa’s chief public prosecutor, issued an arrest warrant—seen by CPJ—for the November 2016 court judgment against the journalist, according to L’Objectif. Luteke told CPJ he had filed an appeal—which was also seen by CPJ—on Zongia’s behalf on January 31, 2017.
Luteke told CPJ that he also filed court papers on September 7, 2018, challenging the legality of the journalist’s detention, alleging that Zongia was summoned to Kinkole district court on September 6 on the pretense of a hearing of his appeal, but was immediately arrested on arrival. Luteke, who accompanied the journalist to the court that day and witnessed the arrest, also said that no court date has been set to hear this challenge.
After spending the night of September 6 in a holding cell at the Kinkole district court, Zongia was transferred to Makala Prison on September 7, before being admitted to a hospital outside the prison under police guard the next day due to a pre-existing health condition, Luteke told CPJ.
Zongia was still healing when he was transferred back to Makala Prison from the hospital on October 1, 2018, because the director of Makala Prison said it was too expensive to keep two guards stationed at the hospital, according to Luteke. “The prison director promised us that a doctor will be allowed to visit Zongia weekly in prison,” Luteke told CPJ. Zongia was transferred back to the hospital on October 27, according to Konzi.
CPJ’s repeated calls to the proseucutor, Yamba, in late 2018 went unanswered. CPJ also sent Yamba a text message requesting comment on the case but received no response.
On October 1, 2018, CPJ visited the Congolese ministry of justice in Kinshasa seeking comment on Zongia’s case. Upon arrival, a secretary at the ministry asked CPJ to file a form detailing the reason for requesting communication with Alexis Tambwe Mwamba, the DRC’s justice minister. After CPJ completed and returned the form on the same day, a member of the ministry staff verbally told CPJ that the minister could not comment on the case because it had already been through the court system.
On October 4, 2018, CPJ visited the Congolese ministry of human rights and waited for three hours to meet with the minister, Marie-Ange Mushobekwa. CPJ was not granted an audience with the minister and the same day sent a WhatsApp message requesting comment on Zongia’s case, as well as comment on the country’s ongoing use of criminal defamation, which conflicts with United Nations and African Union declarations. The next morning, the minister replied on WhastApp: “Hello, I will inquire for a solution.” A month later, CPJ had not received any further response.