Arrested on 8 September, our correspondent Stanis Bujakera Tshialama has been on remand since 14 September at the Kinshasa penitentiary and re-education centre – better known as Makala prison.
Built in 1957 to house 1,500 inmates, the prison’s dilapidated buildings cover a 13-hectare area between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) communes of Makala and Selembao, and today house almost 10,000 inmates, most of whom are incarcerated in sub-human overcrowded conditions. Stanis is one of them, in Pavilion 8, wearing the prison uniform of blue with yellow stripes.
What he is accused of boils down to the fact that he refuses to reveal the sources of an article signed by the editorial staff of Jeune Afrique, but which Congolese authorities (who have called it ‘fake news’) suspect him of having written.
Such a ‘crime’ would lead to imprisonment only in countries where freedom of the press and respect for the work of journalists are mere decoys. To drive this point home, and to reiterate that Félix Tshisekedi’s Congo must earn its ‘democratic’ label, Jeune Afrique has launched the ‘Free Stanis’ campaign in collaboration with Congolese news site Actualité.cd and Reuters, the other media outlets for whom Stanis works.
His [Stanis] detention is a disgrace for the whole of Africa.
Some 40 videos have been produced as part of this campaign, and have garnered more than a million visits to Jeune Afrique’s X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook profiles. In addition there have been press releases from human rights organisations and tweets of support from celebrities, including Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and American actress and activist Mia Farrow.
These appeals demand the immediate release of Stanis, who “must be free to participate in the urgent task of deepening democracy in DRC, but also in Africa”, says Cameroonian historian and philosopher Achille Mbembe.
Former French Secretary of State Rama Yade, Burkinabe activist and rapper Smockey, Ivorian journalist and writer Serge Bilé, Congolese mathematician Jonathan Esole are among the others making this demand. UN human rights expert Alioune Tine says: “Stanis Bujakera’s only crime is his professionalism.” Novelist Calixthe Beyala has called his detention “a disgrace for the whole of Africa”.
Others have addressed the Congolese government directly, such as broadcaster and producer Claudy Siar, saying: “We know, you know and we know that you know, that he does not belong in prison.” Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas called on the authorities “to let President Tshisekedi know that we stand by our friend”.
Ivorian essayist Elgas describes Stanis as a “pathfinder” and Congolese activist Fred Bauma, of the Group of Experts on the Congo, said that his detention amounts to “depriving the half a million people who follow him of reliable information, at a time when disinformation is rife”.
His fellow academics Richard Kapend and Poncia Nyembo have stated categorically that Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala is one of the best sources of “reliable, verifiable and certified” information on DRC, and that his imprisonment less than three months before the presidential election is worrying.
“I tell him to hang in there, prison doesn’t kill you,” said Nigerian journalist Moussa Aksar, who has also previously been detained, while his compatriot, the comedian Mamane, sums up what all those who know Stanis and his work are saying: “Enough is enough, he must be released.”
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