August 17, 2016

JED and RSF press for release of Burundian journalist held in DRC

Credit : Bujumbura News Agency /Egide Mwemero
Journalist in Danger (JED) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wrote to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s minister of justice and human rights, Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, on 11 August asking him to intercede personally and urgently to obtain the release of Egide Mwemero, a Burundian journalist who has been detained in the DRC for the past ten months. Egide Mwemero works as a technician for Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), a Burundian radio station that has been banned from operating by the Burundian authorities since April 2015. He is currently being held in a completely illegal manner in Makala prison in the DRC’s capital, Kinshasa.

The letter – copies of which were sent to the DRC’s president and prime minister and to the head of the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC – calls on Mwamba to put a stop to the stalling tactics being used by the prosecutor’s office to keep Egide Mwemero in detention.

After expressing outrage at the way Mwemero has been held incommunicado for ten months in various detention centres operated by the security services in the eastern DRC and in Kinshasa, the letter provides the justice minister with a summary of all that this journalist has undergone.

Mwemero arrived in Uvira, a Congolese city near the Burundian border, on 13 October 2015 on a three-day assignment to assist RPA’s partnership with the Uvira-based radio station Le Messager du Peuple. He was outside the radio station with two Congolese journalists when members of the DRC’s intelligence services arrived and, after greeting the two Congolese journalists by name, arrested all three.

They released the two Congolese journalists later the same day but not Mwemero although he had entered the country legally and although he had his Burundian passport and a copy of this three-day assignment order on him.

After being transferred to the city of Bukavu on 1 November 2015, he was handcuffed and put on a boat going to the city of Goma the next day. The day after that, he was flown to Kinshasa. During all this time, he remained in the custody of military intelligence.

From 3 November 2015 to 28 April 2016 – for nearly seven months – he was held in a detention centre operated by the DMIAP (a military intelligence unit).

After representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) found him there – with almost no clothes and without the right to wash – he was quickly taken to the military prosecutor-general’s department.

From there, he was transferred on 30 April to Ndolo military prison, where he remained until 28 May, when he was secretly moved to Makala central prison. He continues to be held there in Cell 21 of Wing 1.

On 9 June, the prosecutor’s office at the appeal court of the Kinshasa district of Gombe opened a case file (RMP 83310/KAD) in which Mwemero was accused of “espionage”. An investigating judge questioned Mwemero in Makala prison on 23 July. Two charges were cited at this hearing, not only “espionage” but also “entering the country illegally”, a charge that had not been mentioned before.

It was clear from this hearing that Mwemero had provided no information to an enemy country and that his trip to Uvira complied with the regulations laid down by the DRC’s General Directorate for Migration. The prosecutor’s office therefore concluded that no charges could be brought against Mwemero.

“Curiously, instead of releasing Mwemero, the prosecutor’s office staged a U-turn and sent the case to the High Military Court of Gombe,” the letter says. “This decision by the prosecutor’s office constitutes a denial of justice and a violation of one of the basic principles of law, non bis in idem, under which no one may be tried twice for the same cause.”

The letter concludes: “No one seems to be concerned about Egide Mwemero’s continuing ordeal. For this reason, JED and RSF are turning to you, the Minister of Justice, to protest against his illegal detention and to ask you to intercede personally to end the stalling tactics to which this journalist is being subjected by the prosecutor’s office and the High Military Court of Gombe after more than ten months in detention.”

The DRC is ranked 152nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.