Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Pius Romain Rolland Ngoie, a well-known freelance journalist who has been held on a criminal defamation charge for the past week in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is due to appear in court for a releasel hearing today.
Ngoie was arrested on 22 December on a charge of defaming Fabrice Puela, a parliamentary representative for the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), President Félix Tshisekedi's party, and was transferred to Kinshasa's Makala prison two days later.
A regular participant in TV political discussion programmes, Ngoie said during a programme two months ago on Radio Télévision Groupe Avenir (RTGA) that, according to his sources, Puela had tried to use political blackmail to extract money from former National Assembly speaker Jeanine Mabunda.
Jonas Ngalamulume, the National Congolese Press Union's lawyer, who is representing Ngoie, said the purpose of today's hearing was just to consider the request for Ngoie's release and that no date to has so far been set to hear the substance of the case.
"This is yet another case illustrating the dangers associated with journalism in the DRC," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "Although simply accused of defamation, this journalist has been detained for the past week and is being treated like a criminal. We call for his immediate release. It's time the DRC adopted new legislation that provides press freedom with much more protection, so that journalists stop ending up in prison over work-related matters."
As RSF reported at the time, Radio France Internationale correspondent Pascal Mulegwa was summoned to appear in court last week in a suit brought by a senator for quoting an NGO's claim that, when transport minister, he had channelled a public transport company's funds into his senatorial election campaign.
Journalists and media outlets continue to be subjected to many abuses in the DRC. Journalist in Danger (JED), RSF's local partner organization, painted an alarming picture in its latest annual report on 2 November, revealing that it had registered no fewer than 116 press freedom violations in 2020, including 40 arrests.
The DRC is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.