CPJ Welcomes Release Of DRC Journalist Stanis Bujakera, Calls For Release Of Blaise Mabala

Photo: YouTube Screenshots

Above Photo : [Journalists Blaise Mabala (left), and Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala were arrested and detained in connection with reports and commentary questioning government activities.] Courtesy Blaise Mabala and Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala

Kinshasa, March 19, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s release of journalist Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, but is alarmed by his six-month prison sentence and fine of 1 million Congolese francs (US$400) and the ongoing detention of journalist Blaise Mabala, who has been in custody since December.

After more than six months in jail, Bujakera was released from prison on Tuesday, Ndikulu Yana and Charles Mushizi, two of Bujakera’s lawyers, told CPJ via messaging app. The lawyers said they planned to appeal the conviction and sentencing.

“While it is good news that journalist Stanis Bujakera is no longer behind bars, his conviction and sentencing is alarming because it seeks to justify his months in detention and sends a frightening message to the broader media community. His case has been a heavy blow to press freedom in the DRC,” said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ’s Africa program. “DRC authorities should take urgent steps to improve press freedom conditions, including releasing and dropping the case against Blaise Mabala, who has been jailed since December 2023, and reforming the country’s laws to ensure journalism is not criminalized.”

Bujakera is a Congolese citizen and a permanent U.S. resident. He worked as a correspondent for privately owned Jeune Afrique and Reuters news agency, and was also deputy director of publication for the DRC-based news website Actualite.cd.

DRC police arrested Bujakera in Kinshasa, the DRC’s capital, on September 8, 2023, and authorities charged him with spreading falsehoods, forgery, use of forged documents, and distributing false documents under the combined application of the DRC’s penal code and a new digital code and press law. The charges relate to an August 31 report about the military intelligence’s possible involvement in the murder of an opposition politician by Jeune Afrique, which the outlet said Bujakera did not write.

During a hearing on March 8, the report of a technical expert commissioned by the court suggested that Bujakera was not the principal source of a document cited in Jeune Afrique’s article that the DRC intelligence service has said was false. During the same hearing, the public prosecutor requested that Bujakera be sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined 1 million Congolese francs ($361). But the judge on Monday sentenced him to six months in prison, which he had already served, and that fine, which Yana told CPJ had been paid before his release.

In the hours before Bujakera’s release, the prosecutor submitted and then withdrew an appeal of the sentencing, Yana said. In a separate case, Malaba, coordinator of the privately owned radio Même moral FM and correspondent for the privately owned news site okapinews.net, who was arrested on December 29, is being held in pre-trial detention in Makala central prison in Kinshasa. He is accused of defamation and contempt against Rita Bola, governor of Maï Ndombe province, over an October broadcast in which listeners called in and criticized the politician.

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