Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe was badly beaten by the governor’s bodyguards when they arrested him on the governor’s orders as he was covering a protest by disgruntled government employees in Mbandaka, the provincial capital, on 27 February.
The governor accused Iwewe of calling him a “thief” during his coverage of the protest for Radio Télé Sarah (RTS), a local TV station owned by a former governor who is the current governor’s leading challenger in today’s gubernatorial elections in the DRC.
According to a medical report seen by RSF, Iwewe is suffering from contusions to the head, chest and genitals that need further examination and treatment “in an appropriate medical centre.”
Although he has appealed against the one-year prison sentence that he received two days after his arrest on a charge of insulting the governor, the authorities have neither released him provisionally nor authorized his transfer to a hospital for the treatment he needs.
“It is unacceptable that this journalist, who was arrested, beaten and summarily sentenced to a long jail term, continues to be deprived of both his freedom and appropriate medical attention while his assailants go unpunished,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “With a decision on his appeal due by the end of the week, we urge the authorities to end this persecution, so that he can be freed from prison and seek medical attention.”
The DRC’s new president, Félix Tshisekedi, gave an encouraging signal in his inaugural address on 24 January when he said he wanted the media to become a “real fourth estate.” A complete break is needed with the practices that prevailed under his predecessor, Joseph Kabila, regarded by RSF as one of Africa’s worst press freedom predators.
However, the past few weeks have seen attacks on media outlets and journalists, especially by the new president’s supporters. Iwewe is the first journalist to arbitrarily receive a prison sentence under the new president
The DRC is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.