Freelance reporter abducted, held incommunicado in DRC
UPDATE on 31 October 2022: When asked by RSF, government spokesman Patrick Muyaya insisted that Steve Wembi is not the subject of any arrest warrant and that the ANR is not holding him. Nonetheless, as Wembi still cannot be located, the head of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau, Sadibou Marong, calls on the Congolese authorities to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that he is able to resume working in complete safety without being harassed.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to reveal where they are holding Steve Wembi, a freelance journalist who has been missing ever since his abduction-style arrest two days ago. He must be freed at once, RSF says.
According to witnesses and the International Press Correspondents’ Association, Wembi was arrested by presumed members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) and was taken away in a white jeep after going to a work-related meeting on the terrace of a hotel in the capital, Kinshasa, on 24 October. His whereabouts has been unknown ever since and the government’s spokesman has so far denied that ANR officers were involved.
“We are dealing with the case of a journalist who has been harassed for months in connection with his work and has finally been arrested arbitrarily and held incommunicado,” said Sadibou Marong, the director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau. “The Congolese authorities must not only shed light on Steve Wembi's abduction and say exactly what has happened to him, but they must also do whatever is necessary to have him released immediately.”
Radio France Internationale’s correspondent in Kinshasa, Pascal Mulegwa, who is a close colleague of Wembi, confirmed his arrest and disappearance when contacted by RSF. Mulegwa also told RSF that he and Wembi’s relatives were themselves briefly detained up when they went looking for him.
“I set off for the place where Steve was last seen in order to try to find out what had happened to him but, when I was outside, I was summarily arrested by ANR agents,” he told RSF. “I was even stripped of a large sum of money after being taken to their headquarters and members of his family were manhandled in front of me.”
The arrest and disappearance of Wembi, who works for several international media outlets including The New York Times, are indicative of the dangers to which journalists are exposed in the DRC. They are often harassed on social media and are targeted by the ANR and members of political parties.
New York Times director of communications Nicole Taylor told RSF: “We remain concerned about Steve’s safety. Mr. Wembi is a well-known, independent journalist who has worked for outlets including The New York Times, although he is not currently on assignment for The Times.”
The photos of Wembi and two other journalists – Stany Bujekera, who works for the Congolese news website Actualité.cd, and Educ TV reporter John Lungila – were posted on Twitter accompanied by death threats on 30 May.
Freelancer Joseph Kazadi was finally released unconditionally on 3 August after been detained for three weeks. A total of 19 journalists have been arrested arbitrarily since the start of the year, according to a provisional tally by RSF.
The DRC is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.