“Stanis Bujakera is a young man whom I like. For the record, he covered our election campaign, he was with us every step of the way, I have sympathy for [him], I regret what has happened to him, but I cannot obstruct justice and not allow it to shed full light [on the situation],” said DRC President Félix Tshisekedi.
He was responding to questions from several journalists about the fate of their colleague, Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala.
The Congolese journalist, who works for Jeune Afrique, was arrested on 8 September and transferred to Makala prison on 14 September.
Provisional release rejected
“There was a risk that he could try to erase the evidence,” a source in the president’s entourage told Jeune Afrique when asked why Tshiamala’s provisional release was rejected by the courts.
Earlier, Tshisekedi had reiterated his attachment to the principle of the separation of the branches of government.
“I don’t meddle in what happens with the justice system. Obviously, as the constitution states, I am the top magistrate. Without passing judgement, I can inquire into certain situations without interfering in the affairs of the judiciary, especially when they give rise to controversy.”
He also dismissed any possible political overtones in the case.
“I would like to stress that I will never, ever be the gravedigger, the murderer of my compatriots. I came to lead this country to promote the rights and freedoms of my fellow citizens. […] I come from a political movement that suffered enormously from dictatorship, violence and arbitrary arrests. I know the horrors of that, and I wouldn’t wish it on any of my compatriots,” he told the Congolese and international press in New York.
Tshiamala is being held in Kinshasa’s Makala prison after he was accused of “spreading false rumours” and “disseminating fake news”. He has been charged in connection with an article published on our website on 31 August, which did not bear his byline but that of Jeune Afrique.
However, the president’s entourage has assured us that the journalist is not being prosecuted for this content, but for having published a document attributed to the l’Agence nationale de renseignement (the National Intelligence Agency), which is a forgery, according to the authorities who have so far failed to provide proof.
One guilty party: Rwanda
The subject is all the more sensitive, said Tshisekedi, “because we are talking about the death of a man, Chérubin Okende, a former minister who was my collaborator for a long time, and who was very much appreciated.
“He died [under] suspicious circumstances, which to this day have not been cleared up, despite the fact that we have called in international investigators from Belgium, South Africa and France.”
The president added that the affair risked “confusing the investigation with public opinion”.
He pledged to ensure that “the rights [of the individuals questioned] are respected”. Reiterating his commitment to the “fourth estate”, the Congolese president said he had not “missed a single celebration of World Press Freedom Day” since taking office.
We are in a situation of war, imposed on us by our neighbour, Rwanda
He also said that his policy “on press freedom has enabled us to move up 30 places in four years in the rankings of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an organisation with international credibility”.
Yet it is that same organisation that is now calling, along with the Jeune Afrique group, for Tshiamala’s release.
RSF also said it had referred the matter to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and that it “calls on the [DRC] authorities to stop harassing reporters three months before the elections”.
Tshisekedi ruled out any interference by the state in the affairs of the judiciary, but deplored “the violations suffered by journalists in the east of the country as a result of the war”, violations without which the Congolese president said he was convinced that DRC would have “made an even more impressive leap” in the Reporters Without Borders rankings.
The president then openly blamed his Rwandan neighbour for the ills affecting the Congolese press in recent months. “We are in a situation of war, imposed on us by our neighbour, Rwanda,” he says.
The Rwandan and Congolese heads of state addressed the United Nations on 20 September, and the two countries are still at loggerheads.
On the subject of the conflict raging in the east of the country, led by the M23 rebels, Tshisekedi rejected any possibility of dialogue.
“The M23 is a criminal group drawn into a criminal adventure brought about by President Paul Kagame. For that reason, there will never be any negotiations with them,” he said.
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