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Prominent Congolese Journalist Convicted on Baseless Charges

Authorities Should Quash Stanis Bujakera’s Conviction

Stanis Bujakera in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, August 2023. © 2023

This week, a court in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, convicted the prominent journalist Stanis Bujakera and sentenced him to six months in prison for sharing an article on social media alleging that Congolese military intelligence had killed a senior opposition official.

On the basis that he had already spent six months in pretrial detention, Bujakera was released on March 19.

Bujakera, 34, Congo’s most-followed journalist on social media, had been detained since September 8. The authorities had arrested and charged him with fabricating and distributing a fake intelligence memo saying that Congolese military intelligence had killed Chérubin Okende, a member of parliament and spokesman for the opposition party Ensemble pour la République. Bujakera was not the author of the memo, which was published in Jeune Afrique.

Okende disappeared in Kinshasa on July 12, 2023, and was found dead in his car with gunshot wounds the next day. The government had publicly denounced Okende’s murder and set up a commission of enquiry. But the public prosecutor handling the case concluded that Okende had committed suicide, and in a March 2 memo he instructed his office to question anyone “gossiping” about the investigation’s conclusions.

Investigations carried out by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Congo Hold-Up media consortium determined that the memo was authentic and highlighted serious inconsistencies in the prosecution's claims that Bujakera had received the memo through a Telegram account and was the first person to share it.

Bujakera 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.” His case resulted in a global outcry.

The court repeatedly denied provisional release to Bujakera, ignoring international bail standards. He was convicted on all charges.

Bujakera’s six months behind bars and a fine of one million Congolese francs (US$400) is a stark reminder of the growing government crackdown – including online – on journalists, human rights and pro-democracy activists, critics of the government, and opposition party members and officials since Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi's previous term.

The Congolese authorities should immediately move to set aside the conviction.

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