Two Congolese army soldiers, Sgt. Paluku Selemani Ngewese and 2nd Lt. Songa Safari, were sentenced to death by a military court in Béni, in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu, on 17 April for the fatal shooting of cameraman Patient Chebeya Bankome just 12 days earlier. A third defendant, Capt. Bisimwa, was sentenced to five years in prison for “disobeying orders.”
“This murder investigation was completed in an extremely short period of time,” Reporters Without Borders. “For such a serious sentence as the death penalty, the Congolese authorities should make sure the persons they arrested really did do it. We call for a new investigation under the authority of a civilian court to ensure that the initial investigation was sufficiently thorough.”
Bankome was gunned down outside his Béni home on the evening of 5 April in front of his wife, who was the main witness at the trial. The press freedom organisation Journalist in Danger (JED) reports that she told the military tribunal that the physical appearance of the three defendants did not match that of the three men she saw shoot her husband.
06.04.2010 - Freelance cameraman gunned down in eastern town
Reporters Without Borders is shocked and outraged by the murder of freelance cameraman Patient Chebeya Bankome, who was gunned down yesterday evening in front of his wife outside his home in Béni, in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu.
“If the Congolese authorities investigate this murder in a serious and independent manner and do not neglect any leads, they have an opportunity to end the impunity for murders of journalists that has prevailed until now,” Reporters Without Borders said. “All eyes are therefore turned on them.”
The press freedom organisation added: “This appalling killing, the sixth in which a journalist has been the victim in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in the past five years, has again highlighted the degree to which journalists are exposed to violence in this part of Africa.”
Also known by the pseudonym of Montigomo, Bankome worked for several TV stations including state-owned Radio-Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC). Three gunmen shot him four times at point-blank range after taking his bag, which contained video cassettes, his mobile phone and cash.
His wife said the gunmen, who were in military uniforms, had waited for Bankome outside this home and had said they had come specially to kill him.
A second-lieutenant and a sergeant-major stationed at a nearby armed forces logistics base have been arrested on suspicion of taking part in the murder. “This was not a hold-up, it was a carefully prepared operation,” Béni mayor Mufunza Bayengo told Reporters Without Borders. “We firmly condemn this unfortunate event.”
Aged 35, Bankome had covered most of the armed conflicts in eastern DRC, including the fighting in Ituri province. The other five journalists to be killed in the region in the past five years were Pascal Kabungulu, Serge Maheshe, Patrick Kikuku, Didace Namujimbo and Bruno Koko Chirambiza.
Reporters Without Borders went to Bukavu in December 2008 to investigate the previous month’s murder of Namujimbo, who worked for the Bukavu office of Radio Okapi, and to meet with the civilian and military authorities in Sud-Kivu province.
In a March 2009 report entitled “Bukavu, murder city,” Reporters Without Borders condemned the way the military had repeatedly taken over the investigations and urged President Joseph Kabila and the government to set up a special judicial commission to investigate the murders of journalists and human rights activists. This request has been ignored.