DRC official: government is closely watching case of detained journalist News
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DRC official: government is closely watching case of detained journalist

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Minister of Communication and Media Patrick Muyaya told reporters on Thursday that the government was closely watching the case of Stanis Bujakera, a Congolese journalist who was arrested earlier this week. Actualite.cd, where Bujakera serves as Deputy Publication Director, published Mayaya’s comments and also reported that authorities moved Bujakera to a new prison.

Muyaya expressed a degree of solidarity with Bujakera, saying, “[I]t is not good news that a journalist is going to prison.” He also emphasized the country’s commitment to free press, which he called “cardinal of democracy.” Nonetheless, Muyaya stressed the importance of the separation of powers and said that the independence of the judiciary means the government would have to wait and see how the case proceeds.

Bujakera is a notable Congolese journalist who worked for a various outlets in the country, like Actualite.cd, Jeune Afrique and Reuters. Congolese authorities arrested him earlier this week over a report in Jeune Afrique about the murder of former Transport Minister Chérubin Okende, who was a member of the political opposition. The report explored military intelligence about the murder and raised questions about whether the DRC’s military intelligence community was involved in Okende’s death. Authorities accused Bujakera of disseminating false information and confiscated his phone and laptop. In addition, authorities also tried to delete and deactivate Bujakera’s social media account on X (formerly Twitter), according to his team, who is running the account post-arrest.

Jeune Afrique issued a strong defense of Bujakera in a statement, calling his arrest an abuse of power and saying that arresting journalists kills democracy. Journalist and human rights groups have also expressed their support and demanded his release, including the World Association of News Publisher and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ’s Africa program coordinator Angela Quintal said:

DRC authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Stanis Bujakera and halt the unabated pattern of arresting journalists over publications deemed undesirable. Laws in the DRC should be swiftly reformed to prevent the criminalization of journalism and the jailing of journalists.

Bujakera’s arrest comes months after the DRC passed a new law regulating press and journalism in the country, which the CPJ said criminalized digital reporting. The law added new restrictions to reporting and authorized criminal sentences, like prison time, for violations. At the time the law was passed, Quintal said, “DRC lawmakers seem to have squandered a massive opportunity to curb the criminalization of journalism, and should swiftly pursue additional reforms to ensure journalists in their country are never again jailed for their work.”

International concerns over press freedom and journalist safety have increased in recent years, with the UN calling for further protections in May 2023. The DRC in particular has been a hotspot for such concerns. According to a report published by a human rights watchdog in the DRC last year, one journalist was killed, 37 were arrested and 18 were physically assaulted, while 17 media organizations were shut down or suspended in the country.