The editor of the independent newspaper Talassa, Bemba was freed in response to yesterday’s decision by a Brazzaville criminal court of appeal granting a request for his release. He continues to be charged with “complicity in a threat to state security.”
He was arrested on 11 January 2017 and his newspaper was shut down the next day because he reprinted an opinion piece by Frédéric Bintsamou, a former rebel leader also known as Pastor Ntumi, whose fighters had clashed with the regular army in Pool, a department adjoining Brazzaville, from April to December 2016. An agreement ended the conflict and, last week, 80 associates of Bintsamou were freed.
“We are relieved by Ghys Fortuné Bemba’s provisional release, not least because he has several ailments that have been exacerbated by his imprisonment,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This journalist has already lost a year and a half of his life just for publishing an opinion piece by a government opponent. The charges against him must now be dropped as a matter of urgency.”
RSF and the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote a joint letter to President Denis Sassou Nguesso last September calling for Bemba’s immediate release. Both he and his newspaper have previously been the target of judicial proceedings for publishing criticism of the government.
RSF issued a press release in March of this year deploring that fact that he had been returned to prison four weeks after being rushed to a hospital intensive care unit in January, and holding the authorities responsible for his state of health.
The Republic of Congo (also known as Congo-Brazzaville) is ranked 114th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.