The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has implored authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to not oppose journalist Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe’s appeal of a year-long prison sentence for insulting a provincial governor.
Iwewe, a reporter at the privately owned broadcaster Radio Television Sarah, was convicted on March 1 in the Mbandaka criminal court on a charge of insulting Équateur Governor Bobo Boloko Bolumbu, said the journalist’s lawyer, Souverain Pontife Ikolombe.
Iwewe was sentenced to one year in prison and instructed to pay $200 in damages to Bolumbu. He is held at Mbandaka Central Prison, where he has been detained since his arrest on February 27.
Ikolombe is expected to appeal the judgment on Friday at the Tribunal de Paix de Mbandaka appeals court, alleging that the original trial was improperly held.
The CPJ said in a statement that Iwewe was the first journalist it was aware of who had been imprisoned in the DRC since President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo took office on January 24.
Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, said in New York: “The Democratic Republic of Congo may have a new president, but it seems the ambition to censor journalists whom the authorities find undesirable is unchanged.
“Governor Bobo Boloko Bolumbu should not contest Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe’s appeal, so his conviction can be overturned and he can be released.”
Reports say Iwewe was arrested and beaten by the governor’s security agents on February 27 in Mbandaka while covering Bolumbu’s arrival at a protest against an increase in state taxes, according to his lawyer. Security officers told Iwewe to stop filming and taking photographs, but the journalist refused.
CPJ said repeated calls and WhatsApp messages to Bolumbu spokesperson Rossi Bolekwa went unanswered. CPJ also called Trésor Nsaebeinga, the director of Radio Television Sarah, but did not get a response.
The lawyer said that Nsaebeinga and Yanick Mbombo, another reporter at the station, had gone into hiding for fear of arrest following Iwewe’s detention.
– African News Agency