On July 13, Nicolas Niarchos, a journalist on assignment for The Nation, along with his colleague and translator Joseph “Jeef” Kazadi, were extrajudicially detained in Lubumbashi, in the southern Democratic Republic of the Congo. They were reporting on connections between separatists in the region and artisanal mining for cobalt, a mineral that is a key ingredient in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries. Both are fully accredited journalists and were conducting normal journalistic activities, interviewing key players related to their stories, setting up interviews, and taking photographs.
Niarchos and Kazadi were accused of espionage and repeatedly interrogated by Congo’s notorious secret police, the Agence Nationale de Renseignements or ANR, which claimed they were trying to fund rebel groups. Niarchos’s passport details were widely distributed on social media. The pair were held in Lubumbashi for a night, then flown to the capital, Kinshasa, where they were held at the headquarters of the secret police. The ANR seized their telephones and computers and deleted their reporting records, holding them incommunicado. Repeated requests to call their families were denied. The agency then, for a time, refused to acknowledge having taken them. The Nation notes that enforced disappearance is considered a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute, which governs the work of the International Criminal Court. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a signatory since 2002.
The arrests come as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, under President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, has lurched toward authoritarianism. Elections are set to take place next year. According to Reporters Sans Frontières, 19 journalists have been arbitrarily arrested in the country since the beginning of the year, at least three of whom were tortured by the ANR. On July 25, members of the youth wing of the president’s party stormed a United Nations base in the eastern city of Goma, resulting in five deaths. (Just this weekend, UN peacekeeping troops fired on a border post in the east of the country, killing at least two people, a move condemned by the UN’s secretary general.)
As a foreign national, Niarchos was released and expelled from the country five-and-a-half days after his detention began. At time of press, Kazadi, who is Congolese, remains in jail in Kinshasa. He has had no access to his lawyer, no contact with his family, and no ability to talk to his doctor. He has not been charged with any crime, and he remains extrajudicially detained. The conditions of his detention are unclear.
The Nation calls on the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to respect the rights of journalists around the country, and to free Jeef Kazadi immediately.