Two journalists sentenced in absentia to long jail terms

Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organization in Democratic Republic of Congo, have written to justice and human rights minister Luzolo Bambi Lessa about two separate cases on 2 November in which journalists were given jail sentences in absentia on defamation charges. The two organizations said they did not oppose the fact that defamation actions were brought against these journalists, but they objected to the manner in which they were tried and called for reform of the laws that apply to the press. In one case, the Kinshasa/Gombe magistrate’s court sentenced Africa News publisher Achille Kadima Mulamba to eight months in prison and a fine of 10,000 US dollars on charges of defaming Alexis Thambwe Mwamba Jr, the head of a European Development Fund support unit, by accusing him of embezzlement. Mulamba, who was given no opportunity to defend himself, was also convicted on a charge of “bad faith” for allegedly denying Mwamba the right of reply. In the other case, a court in Beni, in the northeastern province of Nord-Kivu, sentenced Kambale “El Kate” Maghaniryo of Radio Télévision Gabren Beni (RTGB) to 24 months in prison on a charge of defaming a Capt. Bokwala, the head of the Beni border police. The verdict and sentenced were issued in the absence of both Maghaniryo and his lawyer, blocking any possibility of appeal. Maghaniryo has gone into hiding. In their 10 November letter, Reporters Without Borders and JED did not take a position on the substance of the cases, but explained that they were concerned that these convictions would hurt press freedom and, in Mulamba’s case in particular, would undermine the media’s role in combating corruption and promoting good governance. Under article 74 of the criminal code, which was cited by the judge in the Mulamba case and which dates back to the Mobutu dictatorship, the truth or falsity of the disputed claims is of no concern to the court. All that matters, under this article, is whether the plaintiff’s reputation was damaged. It leaves little room for due process. At a time when the decriminalization of press offences is increasingly being debated, Reporters Without Borders and JED deplore the fact that the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to apply iniquitous and archaic laws to convict “troublesome” journalists. The letter also reminded the minister that 29 member organizations of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a worldwide coalition of free speech groups, voiced their support on 14 September for the appeal that fellow IFEX-members Reporters Without Borders and JED had addressed to President Joseph Kabila on 30 August. The appeal called for a moratorium on imprisoning journalists on charges of defamation or insulting the authorities, so that the media can play their role as a fourth estate in the run-up to the 2011 presidential election and can help combat corruption and any possible attempts at electoral fraud. The letter concluded by urging the minister to ensure that Mulamba is able to defend himself properly, as in any fair trial, when his appeal is heard. Reporters Without Borders and JED said they were convinced that the judges would take account of his arguments. They also called for an equitable judicial review of Maghaniryo’s case. Photo : copyright Luzolo Bambi Lessa, justice and human rights minister (cdn.wn.com)
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Mise à jour le 20.01.2016