Is Congolese journalist Stanis Bujakera’s trial fate already sealed?
What with a biased investigation, a sham expert report, a refusal to hear defence witnesses and disturbing comments by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s president, there is every reason to question the fairness of a Congolese journalist’s trial in Kinshasa
Stanis Bujakera, the Kinshasa correspondent of the French news monthly Jeune Afrique, has been detained since 8 September for allegedly forging a Congolese intelligence agency memo about an opposition politician’s murder. He is next due to appear before the Kinshasa-Gombe court that is trying him on 1 December, but his supporters, including RSF, have every reason to doubt that this trial will establish the facts.
A consortium of media (including Jeune Afrique, the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, and the independent Congolese news site Actualité.cd) has just published damning revelations about the prosecution case. A technical expert’s report, on which the prosecutor is heavily relying, is at best very incompetent or, at worst, an extremely crude attempt to prop up the prosecution’s claims.
The supposed expert, police superintendent Jean-Romain Kalemba, says in his report that analysis of the metadata of the image of the disputed intelligence agency memo shows that it came from a “telegram account” with the avatar “@MG.” He also says it was shared for the first time on WhatsApp from the number used by Bujakera via “IP address 192.162.12.04” on 3 September. This was four days after Jeune Afrique published its story based on the memo, which Bujakera is alleged, without proof, to have sent to Jeune Afrique.
Bogus expert report paving way for conviction?
When contacted by the media consortium, a Telegram spokesperson confirmed that it is absolutely impossible to identify the IP address of the sender of a photo since its metadata is “automatically deleted” when sent. The same response was provided by Meta (WhatsApp’s owner). It is “not possible to identify the initial sender of a WhatsApp message,” a Meta spokesperson said. The lack of traceability lies at the very heart of the model used by these messaging services, which are designed to protect the anonymity of their users, particularly under authoritarian regimes. Any expert knows this.
In an additional absurdity, the IP address cited in the “expert report” is actually used by Bullhost, a Spanish cybersecurity company. When contacted by the media consortium, Bullhost said this address was used “exclusively for internal use” and that it was “not possible that private traffic was routed to it.”
Despite the obviously serious doubts about the reliability and honesty of this “expert report,” the court has yet to grant the request by Bujakera’s lawyers to present their own experts’ testimony.
“In this case, the prosecution has not only made serious, unfounded accusations but has also used a clearly bogus expert report that no serious specialist could endorse. The fact that the judge has not yet allowed the defence to present its own experts and that the DRC’s president has himself mentioned the possibility of interceding after Stanis Bujakera’s conviction suffice to arouse our concern about the fate reserved for this journalist at the end of the trial.
President Félix Tshisekedi, who is seeking another term in an election on 20 December, gave France 24 and RFI an interview on 16 November in which he referred for the first time to the possibility that Bujakera was manipulated “by making him believe that it was a first-hand document to disorient the investigators”.
This would be consistent with RSF’s revelations about the authenticity of this memo, which, according to our information, could have been leaked in order to settle scores within the DRC’s National Intelligence Agency (ANR).
In the interview, Tshisekedi added: “I will only intercede later, perhaps, if he is convicted, with an amnesty, a pardon or whatever.” Does this mean that the trial’s outcome is already determined? A grim prospect for Bujakera, who has already been detained for three months and is facing a possible ten-year jail sentence