Employed by Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), a privately-owned Burundian radio station that is banned in Burundi, Mwemero was arrested by military intelligence officials on 13 October 2015 in Uvira, a Congolese city near the Burundian border, while providing technical assistance to an Uvira-based radio station, Le Messager du Peuple.
Charged initially with spying and then with “inciting the military to commit illegal acts,” he was held for seven months in a military intelligence detention centre in Kinshasa before being transferred to Ndoloto military prison and finally to Kinshasa’s Makala prison.
As there was no evidence against him to justify his being tried under the military penal code or by a military court, a civilian judge finally examined the case in July 2016 and concluded that there were no grounds for bringing him to trial.
He nonetheless remained in detention for almost three more months because civilian prosecutors sent the case back the military judicial system, in complete violation of procedure. Fortunately, the military judges refused to take the case again, leaving the civilian judicial authorities with no option but to free him.
Kahn-Sriber added: “We acknowledge the military tribunals’ belated honesty in refusing to take back the case after civilian judges found no evidence against Mwemero, and we urge the Congolese judicial system to refuse to be the tool of political considerations.”
Mwemero has told RSF he is relieved to be reunited with his family and is now due to undergo a series of medical checks, having been mistreated while in detention. “I have a lot of courage and a lot of strength, contrary to what they thought when they arrested me,” he said. “I am not discouraged and I will not give up.”
Many observers regarded the DRC’s persecution of an ordinary radio technician as a sign of the importance of the political factors at play in the case. His discreet release was designed to end what had become a nuisance for the Congolese authorities because of pressure from national and international civil society groups.
The DRC is ranked 152nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. Burundi is ranked 156th, having fallen 11 places in the space of a year.