CIVICUS calls on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) authorities to immediately release journalists and activists Patrick Lola and Christian Bofaya, arrested for doing their job. Patrick and Christian have been arbitrarily detained without charge for five months in the central prison of Mbandaka, the provincial capital of Equateur.
They were arrested on 10 January 2022 on the orders of Bobo Boloko Bolumbu, the governor of Equateur province, for covering a public protest organised by three provincial deputies whose election had been invalidated by the provincial assembly in October 2021.
Patrick and Christian's arrest and illegal detention is not an isolated incidence but instead follows a series of mistreatment and several arrests of media actors and journalists by government authorities in recent times. On 10 April 2022, three journalists working with Radio Mwana Mboka, Albert Muhila, Dieu Agba, and Patrick Gbondo, were detained for over a week in an insult case. On 21 April 2022, Congolese police arrested Sébastien Mulamba, a journalist working with Kisangani News, charged with possession of weapons after his critical comments about the province's governor.
Despite the new government's initial positive developments, which followed President Félix Tshisekedi's commitments, no steps have been taken to end state actors' widespread impunity in restricting peaceful assembly and using excessive force and violence against journalists and peaceful protesters.
Patrick and Christian's arrest and illegal detention threaten press and media freedoms as a foundation of democratic and accountable governance in the DRC. It has a chilling effect on development, human rights, and freedom of expression and access to information in the country and threatens to reverse any gains made since President Tshisekedi came to power. The government of the DRC must protect the right to freedom of expression and information.
"CIVICUS condemns the intimidation by the DRC authorities, which takes the form of arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions of journalists and media workers. Any thriving democracy demands that all pillars of democracy, such as the free media, are operational, respected and promoted. Therefore, the immediate release of Patrick and Christian cannot be over-emphasised", says Paul Mulindwa, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer.
We call on the government of the DRC to:
Immediately and unconditionally drop all alleged cases against Patrick and Christian.
Stop all forms of harassment and victimisation of the person of journalists, and in particular Patrick and Christian.
Respect and protect the press freedom and rights to citizens' freedom of expression.
Create an enabling environment for civil society organisations to operate by removing restrictions and threats on the right to freedom of expression to ensure civil society, activists, and citizens can express themselves without fear of reprisals.
Criminalise press offences and the detention of journalists and media actors.