Press freedom at risk in DRC as journalist Olivier Makambu faces defamation charges and arrest

Journalist Olivier Makambu detained over alleged defamation of parliament member

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to release journalist Olivier Makambu, drop all legal proceedings against him, and reform the country’s laws to ensure journalism is not criminalized.

Makambu, program director of community broadcaster Radio Communautaire pour le Renouveau du Kwango (RCRK), was arrested on November 16 by two police officers from his home in Kenge and taken to the Kenge central prison.

The arrest was made in connection with a defamation complaint filed by parliament member Tharcisse Matadiwamba Kamba Mutu over an August 19 RCRK broadcast about Matadiwamba’s alleged interference in a succession dispute between local customary chiefs.

The prosecutor had summoned Makambu to appear on November 16 for a second hearing related to the complaint, but as the journalist prepared to respond police arrested him and took him to the court hearing, where prosecutors questioned him for 30 minutes before transferring him to Kenge’s central prison. Makambu’s next hearing date had not been set.

CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Angela Quintal, stated:

“Authorities in the DRC should swiftly release journalist Olivier Makambu and cease their legal harassment of him. Authorities should also release journalist Patrick Lola, who has remained behind bars since January 2022. The repeated arrests of journalists across the DRC and the maintenance of criminal defamation under Congolese law are alarming indications that the press is not safe under Felix Tshisekedi’s presidency.”

On August 25, the provincial government of Kwango province, of which Kenge is the capital, instructed journalists not to report on the succession dispute over concerns that coverage may increase tensions.

Congoprofond characterized the government directive as “a thinly veiled way of undermining the fundamental right to expression, in particular the journalist’s right to access sources of information and the public’s right to be informed of what is happening in their environment.”

At least one other journalist, Patrick Lola, remains in detention in the DRC. Lola was arrested while covering a demonstration in Mbandanka city in the northeast in January 2022.