A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo denied provisional release to journalist Stanis Bujakera on Monday, ignoring international bail standards and a global outcry over his continued detention at Kinshasa’s Makala prison. Bujakera’s case highlights the government’s increasing repression of the media less than three months before the general election.
Bujakera, 33, is deputy director of the Congolese online news outlet Actualite.cd, reporter for Jeune Afrique and the international news agency Reuters. He is the most followed journalist on social media in the country and his professionalism has been praised by peers and readers, including government officials, foreign diplomats, and researchers.
Police arrested Bujakera on September 8 at Kinshasa’s Ndjili airport while he was waiting to board a flight. Initially kept in police custody, he was placed in pretrial detention and transferred to prison on September 14 after being charged with “spreading false information,” “forgery and the use of forged documents,” and “distributing false documents.” He could face up to 15 years in prison, according to his lawyer. Authorities questioned Bujakera about an article published by Jeune Afrique citing an allegedly leaked intelligence report on the murder of Cherubin Okende, an opposition official who was found dead in Kinshasa in July. Authorities claim the report is fake and are accusing Bujakera of fabricating and distributing it despite the article not bearing his name.
“They want me to give up sources that informed an article I didn’t write,” Bujakera told Human Rights Watch during a visit to Makala prison this week. “That’s why they have confiscated my phones and my laptop.”
Activists throughout Africa, foreign officials, press freedom groups and international celebrities have condemnedBujakera’s arbitrary arrest and detention. Reporters Without Borders referred his case to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. On September 20, dozens of journalists demonstrated in Kinshasa, calling on authorities to release him and halt attacks against the press.
Speaking to the media in New York City last week, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi said he regretted what had happened to Bujakera, but he “cannot obstruct justice and not allow it to shed full light [on the situation].” Bujakera’s detention is a reminder that Tshisekedi’s pledge, soon after taking office, to have the media become “a real fourth estate,” is long forgotten. A rights-respecting democracy does not jail journalists for doing their job.