It has been a week since Sylvanie Kiaku, a reporter for the weekly La Percée is held in the Kinshasa prison, on a libel charge. According to the Press Freedom in Africa Observatory (OLPA), she was arrested by police attached to the Kinshasa prosecutor’s office on 10 October, and was charged with defaming a local bank, the Banque Commerciale du Congo. She is still held because she is unable to pay bail of 1,000 dollars.
The reporter is charged in connection with two articles about 958 of the bank’s employees who were fired in the course of restructuring carried out from 1999 to 2001. She produced documents for an article in the weekly’s 13 September issue showing that 270 of these former employees have died without receiving any compensation.
“No journalists should be imprisoned for defamation,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The authorities must immediately release Sylvanie Kiaku pending trial and must lose no time in overhauling the legislation affecting press freedom in order to guarantee the right of journalists to freely report the facts and expose abuses without fear of reprisals.”
Kiaku was previously arrested on a libel charge in 2011 over an article about acts of vandalism by gangs of young sportsmen. After she spent a night in prison, the charge was eventually dropped.
Journalists are often detained on defamation charges in the DRC. Tharcisse Zongia, the publisher of the satirical newspaper Le Grognon, has been held for more than a month for an article accusing the secretary-general of the sports ministry of misusing public funds earmarked for the national soccer team. Arrested on 6 September, Zongia has been given the maximum sentence for defamation, a year in prison. Serge Olivier Nkongolo, a journalist with Radio Kilimandjaro in the south-central province of Kasai, was also arrested for criminal defamation in March because of a Facebook post accusing unnamed members of the provincial government of threatening or attacking the media. He has since been released.
It is under an old press law adopted during the Mobutu dictatorship in 1996 that journalists can still be jailed for up to a year for defamation. RSF recently urged the DRC to adopt a new law decriminalizing press offences and providing the media and journalists with more protection.
The DRC is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.