Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe, a reporter for local TV channel Radio Télé Sarah, was sentenced to 12 months in prison in Mbandaka, the province’s capital, on 1 March on a charge of insulting provincial governor Bobo Boloko Bolumbu. He was also ordered to pay 200 dollars in damages.
Iwewe was convicted just two days after his arrest on 27 February while covering a protest by local environmental department employees to demand operating funds. RSF was told that the governor issued orders for Iwewe to stop filming and, when Iwewe refused, citing his right to film a public protest, the governor ordered the police who were present to arrest him.
The TV reporter was then transferred to the Mbandaka prosecutor’s office, which arranged his immediate trial on the grounds that he allegedly committed a crime of contempt of authority.
“Arbitrary arrest, summary trial and an utterly disproportionate sentence – such iniquitous practices must be terminated in the DRC,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “They also completely contradict the new president’s inaugural address on 24 January, when he said he wanted the media to become a real fourth estate. This journalist must be released at once.”
Iwewe may have been a collateral victim of political rivalry in the run-up to the 26 March gubernatorial elections. Radio Télé Sarah’s current owner, former governor Jean-Claude Baende, is Bolumbu’s leading challenger and favourite to replace him.
When reached by RSF, a Bolumbu aide claimed that Iwewe referred to the governor as a “thief” during his coverage of the 27 February demonstration. The aide also accused Radio Télé Sarah of repeatedly making “insulting comments about prominent people in the province.”
Three other Radio Télé Sarah journalists – Trésor Nsaebeinga, Yannick Vital Mbombo and Jean-Claude Mafundisho – are currently in hiding because, according to a communiqué by RSF’s partner organization, Journalist in Danger (JED), a warrant for their arrests on similar changes was issued at the governor’s request.
The DRC is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.