Kinshasa, April 7, 2023—Congolese authorities should drop their criminal defamation investigation into journalist Mills Tshibangu and ensure he can work without fear of arrest or prosecution, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On April 2, a group of about 12 police officers arrested Tshibangu, director of the privately owned online broadcaster Chat Television, while he was driving in Kinshasa, the capital, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, multiple tweets by local journalist Doux Jesus Beledu, and another local journalist familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity.
Authorities held Tshibangu in a cell at the local prosecutor’s office in Kinshasa and then released him on Monday, April 3, on orders to return to that office on Friday. At a hearing on Friday, his case was adjourned until April 14, he said.
Tshibangu’s arrest stemmed from a defamation complaint filed by Congolese Minister of Mines Antoinette Nsamba Kalambayi over his reporting on alleged corruption involving a lithium mine, the journalist said. If convicted of criminal defamation, Tshibangu could face up to one year in prison and a fine under Article 74 of the criminal code.
“Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo should drop their investigation and legal harassment of journalist Mills Tshibangu in retaliation for his work,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Mining in the DRC is a topic of international and local interest, and authorities should ensure that reporting on alleged corruption in that industry is not criminalized.”
In a broadcast aired on July 20, 2022, Tshibangu discussed alleged corrupt and poor management of a local lithium mine and mentioned Nsamba by name, according to the journalist and a file of that broadcast, which CPJ reviewed and which is not available online. Alleged issues with that mine’s management were also reported by the ZoomEco news website.
Tshibangu told CPJ that he was never presented with an arrest warrant and that police officers confiscated US$200 in cash from him before taking him to the prosecutor’s office.
Tshibangu said that as part of his reporting on the mine, he had called Nsamba and her communications adviser for comment, but neither answered. CPJ also called Nsamba, but she did not answer.
Nsamba’s communications adviser, who gave her name as only “Claire,” told CPJ on Monday that she would call back to respond to questions but had not done so by the time of publication.