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DR Congo journalist Stanis Bujakera remains in prison

March 19, 2024

The Congolese journalist Stanis Bujakera is accused of spreading false information. His sentence on Monday appeared to mean he'd go free with time already served, but prosecutors have appealed for him to stay in custody.

"Freedom of the press is a right" - colleagues of Stanis Bujakera protest for his release in Kinshasa, DR Congo
"Freedom of the press is a right" - colleagues of Stanis Bujakera protest for his release in Kinshasa, DR CongoImage: Paul Lorgerie/DW

A state prosecutor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has lodged an appeal against a jail sentence handed to journalist Stanis Bujakera, extending the reporter's time behind bars which was supposed to have ended on Tuesday.

Bujakera was arrested in September on suspicion of spreading false information about the killing of a prominent Congolese opposition politician, Cherubin Okende, in an article published by French news magazine Jeune Afrique in late August 2023.

The article suggested that Okende, a former minister and spokesman for the opposition party Ensemble Pour la Republique ("United for the Republic"), had been murdered by Congolese military intelligence the month before. Okende's bullet-riddled body was found in his car in the DRC capital, Kinshasa.

Despite pleading not guilty, Bujakera was finally sentenced to six months in jail on Monday and fined 1 million Congolese francs (roughly $365 or €335).

Having been detained since his arrest in September, his jail sentence was considered already served and, after his employer paid the fine and associated court costs, he was set for release on Tuesday.

Why is Stanis Bujakera still in prison?

But Bujakera remains in prison after the state prosecutor, which had initially demanded a 20 years in jail, appealed the sentence.

"The order for Stanis to be freed came down around 18:00 (1700 GMT), accompanied by an appeal by the public ministry," said Patient Ligodi, head of the online newspaper actualite.cd where Bujakera is a deputy editor.

The case will now be heard by an appeals court, with DRC's judicial system allowing two further potential rounds of appeal.

"Journalist Stanis Bujakera did not leave the Makala prison this evening," his lawyer, Charles Mushizi, said. "That is due to the appeal that has been lodged by the prosecutor against yesterday's ruling."

Local and international rights groups including Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International had condemned Bujakera's detention, calling it an attack on press freedom. The news agency Reuters, one of his other employers, has also called for his release.

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mf/msh (Reuters, AFP)