October 21, 2014 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Newspaper publisher held for past two months over article

The court has not even begun to consider the criminal defamation case against him

Reporters Without Borders is appalled that newspaper publisher Mike Mukebayi has been held without any justification for the past two months because of a libel suit. The length of his pre-trial detention is out of all proportion, especially as judicial examination of the case has not yet begun.

The publisher of Congo News, Mukebayi was arrested exactly two months ago, on 21 August, on a charge of “detrimental allegations” in connection with an 18 July article about Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo that was headlined: “Monsengwo: shame and dishonour of a cardinal who sold out to the government.”

An arrest warrant was also issued for the newspaper’s managing editor, John Tshingombe Lukusa, whose present location is unknown.

“Regardless of the substance of the case and the grounds for a libel suit, detaining a newspaper publisher for two months over a single article is completely unacceptable,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.

“Such a measure is manifestly unwarranted. Defamatory comments in an article do not turn a journalist into a danger for society. We call on the authorities to release Mukebayi and to try his case in a manner that respects both his rights and freedom of information.”

Held in Kinshasa’s Makala prison, Mukebayi has appeared twice in court since his arrest but the substance of the case has yet to be considered, with the court just extending his pre-trial detention and ignoring his lawyer’s requests for conditional release. The legal detention limit has repeatedly been extended.

The most recent hearing, scheduled for 16 October, was cancelled because the judge did not turn up.

The case is all the more absurd because no complaint was filed by any the persons who might have felt they had been libelled by the article. The only item in the prosecution case file is a complaint by a certain “Vianney” who no one has met or heard of.

“Detrimental allegations” is a criminal offence in Democratic Republic of Congo. Under article 28 of Law 96-002 of June 1996, the publisher, editor and author of a defamatory article are all held responsible.

If Mukebayi is found guilty of “detrimental allegations” as defined in article 81 of the criminal code, he will face a possible one-year jail sentence and a fine.

Democratic Republic of Congo is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

(photo: Mike Mukebayi)