The IPI global network welcomes the release of DRC journalist Stanis Bujakera after six months of detention on various charges including forgery and publishing falsehoods. Bujakera was convicted and given a suspended sentence of six months. While welcoming his release on March 19, IPI nevertheless condemns his arrest and conviction.

Bujakera works for the online news outlet Actualité and is a reporter for several international news outlets. His arrest stemmed from the publication of an article by the pan-African magazine Jeune Afrique that reported on the alleged involvement of the DRC state intelligence agency ANR  in the assassination of opposition leader Chérubin Okende, who was found dead on July 13 in Kinshasa.

The police arrested Bujakera at the airport in Kinshasa on September 8, 2023, and on October 13, arraigned him before the court on six counts, among others, forgery of seal, and publication of false news. On March 19, the court found him guilty of “counterfeiting”, “document forgery”, “use of counterfeit documents”, “dissemination of false news” and “issuance of an incorrect message,” and was also subjected to a fine of 1 million Congolese francs (around $360), as reported by Jeune Afrique.

IPI repeatedly called for Bujakera’s release and is relieved that he has been freed, albeit under favorable conditions in light of the conviction.

“The arrest, detention, and subsequent conviction of Stanis Bujakera sends a chilling message to journalists in DRC”,  said Nompilo Simanje, IPI’s Africa Advocacy and Partnerships Lead. “The police should aim to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of all illegal activities that are exposed through investigative journalism and independent media instead of targeting journalists reporting on matters of public interest. As part of  President Tshisekedi’s second term, IPI calls on his government to reflect on and address the state of media freedom in DRC, which is a critical aspect for any functioning democracy.”

Deteriorating press freedom in DRC

IPI’s press freedom monitoring has regularly documented press freedom violations in the DRC, including physical attacks, arrests, and detention of journalists. The country regularly features among the countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the highest number of recorded press freedom violations, including last September, October, and November. Six violations were recorded in both December and January.

For instance, on December 29, 2023, journalist Blaise Mabala of radio Même Morale FM, was arrested and detained over an accusation of defamation, public insults, and contempt of authority lodged against him by Rita Bola, the governor of Mai Ndombe province. The journalist has been detained at the Makala prison in Kinshasa since January 24.

In February, at least 20 journalists were arrested and briefly detained for protesting against the recurrent assaults on journalists and media. According to OLPA, the local press defense group, the journalists were arrested in Mbandaka, the capital city of the province de l’Equateur. The incident occurred while the journalists were commemorating the International Day of Radio and protesting against the arrest of Mimi Etaka, journalist and director of the state-owned media outlet Radio-télévision nationale congolaise (RTNC).

In other instances, local authorities have moved to shut down media outlets perceived as critical to them. Radio Top Lissala, based in Lisala, the capital of Mongala province, was closed down in November 2023 after the broadcasting of a critical program related to local governance issues.