Reporters Without Borders (RSF) joins Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in calling for the immediate release of a Kinshasa newspaper editor held for the past four days for allegedly defaming a bank. It’s because of arbitrary detention of this kind that the DRC urgently needs to overhaul its press legislation.
After being arrested at his home on 21 October, Nouvelles du Soir editor Achiko Ngaya was interrogated about an article in the newspaper about the pan-African commercial bank Ecobank, his lawyer told JED. The article quoted Ecobank clients complaining about the services it provides.
“Taking this newspaper editor into police custody and then placing him in preventive detention is tantamount to presuming his guilt when it should not be the job of the police to determine the merits of press cases,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.
“No journalist should be jailed for defamation. Imprisoning journalists is totally disproportionate and gives the country a very bad image after the president said it wanted to turn the media into a real fourth estate. We urge the authorities to free this newspaper editor without delay and to quickly start overhauling the press freedom law, which – in its current form – protects those who harass journalists.”
During a five-day visit to Kinshasa last week, RSF joined JED in lobbying for the urgent implementation of two priority reforms that could quickly and concretely help to improve respect for press freedom in the DRC.
At meetings with the communication and media minister and the human rights minister, RSF and JED presented their recommendations for overhauling the 1996 press freedom law, under which journalists can be jailed for minor press offences and even sentenced to death for articles deemed to be treasonous. This law has no provision for journalists accused of defamation to defend themselves on the grounds of good faith, the accuracy of the facts reported, or the public interest served.
Eight of the deputies and senators that JED and RSF met in Kinshasa last week agreed to participate in a “club of pro-press freedom parliamentarians” to advocate for an urgent reform of the obsolete and draconian legislation currently regulating journalism in the DRC, the sub-Saharan country where RSF registered the most abuses against journalists in 2018.
RSF and JED also asked the authorities to establish a network of focal points in the various government agencies and ministries concerned with press freedom, as a first step in the creation of a mechanism designed to ensure a rapid response to violations and monitoring at the highest level, in order to reinforce protection for journalists and combat impunity.
The DRC is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.