No, Mr. Tshisekedi, a democracy does not imprison journalists

by MMC
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There are journalists whose expertise commands respect, journalists so well informed that they antagonize the powerful, journalists who refuse to buckle under pressure. In Félix Tshisekedi’s Congo, Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala’s mistake was to embody all these traits.

Stanis is correspondent for Jeune Afrique in Kinshasa. He is also deputy director of the Actualité.cd site and contributor to the Reuters agency. It has been more than a week since he was arrested by judicial police officers. On September 11, he was placed in pre-trial detention and this Thursday the 14th, he was incarcerated in Makala prison, where he is now in pre-trial detention.

Congolese journalist Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala

© Congolese journalist Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala © rights reserved

Let’s start by pointing out that there are perfectly legal ways to refute, without needing to accuse a journalist, or the media outlet that employs them, of seeking to “discredit government action.”

If the criticized document is a blatant forgery, “fake news” concocted by “malicious people”, as the Congolese Minister of the Interior indignantly asserted in a letter received after Stanis’ arrest, then it should be easily demonstrable. So far, we have not received any concrete evidence that we were misled. Nonetheless, it’s a conversation we’re willing to have.

It is clear that if our journalist is currently accused of “spreading false rumors”, it is not only because of this attributed article. What investigators want is to force Stanis to reveal his sources. It is about silencing the most influential journalist in the DRC, the most followed in his country on X (formerly Twitter), and, through him, all those who would be tempted to approach their work with dedication and integrity. three months before a pivotal election. It is clear and it is unacceptable.

“The problem is you’re not with us.”

For several months, Stanis had been under pressure. Some of his high-ranking contacts had already criticized him for his inflexible character, his obstinacy in reporting the facts impartially and above all in giving a voice to all parties.

Stanis knew that in these times of war in the East and with a presidential election approaching, remaining neutral is often frowned upon. “You are my little brother, but the problem is that you are not with us,” a member of the government said to him one day with feigned concern.
“Neither with you nor against you,” replied Stanis. “I will not always be able to protect you,” concluded the person concerned. The threat was clearly formulated.

Stanis had shared this conversation with us, and when we asked him how we could help him, he replied: “Nothing if it comes at the expense of my journalistic freedom”, fearing that his independence would ultimately become a shameful affair. Of course, that was out of the question.

At that time, a Minister of Defense (of Defense, since replaced) filed a complaint against Stanis, accusing him of having tweeted remarks made during a ministerial meeting, as indicated in a public statement. A ridiculous situation. The complaint eventually died down thanks to the intervention of another member of the government, but Stanis knew that more attempts at intimidation would follow.

Insults and threats on social networks

Even his last name had sparked numerous insults and threats on social networks. In question, the “Bujakera” attached to his family name in homage to a friend of his father from North Kivu. It did not matter to his “detractors” that Stanis was from Kasaï-Oriental, just like Félix Tshisekedi.

Jeune Afrique has already denounced this xenophobia, which is all the more alarming since the Congolese authorities seemed to react with indifference. Stanis had alerted several of his contacts within the government, drawing their attention to the fact that many of these accounts spewing hate online were affiliated with the ruling party.

“You expose yourself too much; I cannot put a police officer behind each of your steps,” replied a minister. Stanis wasn’t asking for that. He just wanted the harassment and intimidation to stop.
On September 20, Tshisekedi will address the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He will undoubtedly call on his counterparts to condemn Rwanda, which he accuses of supporting the M23 rebels who took up arms again at the end of 2021 in eastern DRC.

We hope that by then, Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala will have regained his freedom. If not, will the Congolese president spare a thought for our colleague and friend, whose immediate release is being demanded by several embassies (starting with the American embassy in Kinshasa)?

We will not insult him by thinking that he is unaware of the situation in which the most important Congolese journalist finds himself, recognized for his professionalism and who, during the last electoral campaign, was one of the few, if not the only, to closely follow his journey as a candidate. Nor will we insult him by assuming that he ignores the bitter power struggle taking place within his security services.

What we are asking him is that Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala does not pay the price.

Democracy cannot be decreed; it’s proven

Democracy cannot be decreed, Tshisekedi knows this, being the son of an emblematic opponent of Mobutu and Kabila. Democracy cannot be proven by flying speeches or spectacular announcements of reforms that remain on the shelf. Democracy manifests itself daily in actions, in respect for freedoms and the rule of law.

A Democratic Republic of Congo cannot imprison journalists.

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