The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has this week urged authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to immediately release radio journalist Benjamin Mutiya, a reporter for Radio Télévision Communautaire de Walikale (RTCWA), based in the war-torn North Kivu Province.
Mutiya was arrested on December 14 by agents of the ANR (the national intelligence services), and is accused of defaming Marie-Claire Bangwene, the administrator of Walikale, according to L’Observatoire de la Liberté de la Presse en Afrique.
Mutiya was reportedly arrested the day after broadcasting a discussion that was critical of the management of Walikale territory, particularly road repairs.
Most roads in this vast and mineral-rich Central African nation, especially in the capital Kinshasa, have deteriorated while others have simply disappeared, washed away by torrential rains due to decades of poor maintenance and lack of investment.
In a country lacking freedom of expression and media liberties, criticising the government or the head of state over the poor state of roads or other matters could lead to a lengthy imprisonment, torture or sometimes death.
Many journalists have in the past done lengthy prison terms, while a dozen are believed to have been assassinated for speaking out against abuse of power, including state corruption, economic mismanagement and dictatorship.
In recent months, CPJ has documented how journalists in the DRC have been harassed, arrested, and detained for their reporting.
Now, there are fears that Mutiya could risk any of these ‘unfair’ punishments.
“Authorities must immediately release Mutiya without charge and allow him to return to work,” CPJ Africa programme coordinator Angela Quintal said this week.
“Congolese authorities should stop arresting and trying to intimidate journalists for doing their job, especially when they are reporting on matters of public interest,” South Africa-born Quintal added.
Mutiya is being detained in the Walikale central prison and his case was transferred to the prosecutor’s office.