Cablegate: Press Freedom Quarterly: January-March 2008
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KINSHASA 000361
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TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM CG
SUBJECT: Press freedom quarterly: January-March 2008
1. (SBU) Summary: Congolese authorities used restrictive freedom of
expression laws to convict a journalist in Kasai Oriental province
and arrest four others in Kinshasa and South Kivu. Police beat a
cameraman filming their operations in Katanga. Legal proceedings
resumed in the case of murdered Radio Okapi journalist Serge
Maheshe; MONUC issued a report denouncing the conduct of the
original trial. Many of these abuses are the result of a gap
between constitutional protections and Mobutu-era defamation laws.
2. (SBU) Congolese government and security officials continue to use
Mobutu-era legislation criminalizing allegations against public
officials to intimidate and detain journalists. The 2006
constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but Parliament has not
yet acted to update the legal code. This message highlights five
cases reported by press freedom NGO's during the first quarter of
the year. It also reports on the beating of a journalist by police
and provides an update on legal proceedings in the case of murdered
Radio Okapi journalist Serge Maheshe.
Convicted for "damaging allegations"
3. (U) On February 12, a court in Mwene-Ditu, Kasai Oriental
sentenced Justin Kabasele, a reporter with Radio-Television Kasai
Horizons (KHRT), to one year in prison and a fine of 750,000 FC
(approximately $1,400) for making "damaging allegations." In a
broadcast on May 15, 2007, Kabasele had reported that a Mwene-Ditu
government employee was having an extra-marital affair. His lawyers
have filed an appeal. Journaliste en Danger (JED) told us March 22
that Kabasele had fled and his whereabouts were unknown.
Detained by authorities
4. (SBU) On February 12, Justice Minister Mutombo Bakafwa ordered
the release from Kinshasa central prison of Maurice Kayombo, a
reporter for the investigative magazine Les Grands Enjeux, following
34 days of detention. According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF),
Christophe Kanionio, Secretary-General of the Mining Ministry, had
ordered Kayomo arrested January 9 after calling him to his office to
verify information for a story on management of the mining sector.
Initially charged with "blackmail and insulting authority," Kayombo
was transferred January 12 to a holding cell at the Gombe High
Court, which charged him with "damaging allegations and attempted
fraud." He was transferred to Kinshasa's central prison January 16.
RSF told us March 22 that he is currently free. Kayombo told us
March 31 that Les Grands Enjeux had fired him. He said he was
preparing a lawsuit against Kanionio but does not have the funds
needed to hire an attorney to pursue the case.
5. (U) On March 7, unidentified armed men arrested Editor Ponte
Nsimba Embete of the Kinshasa bi-weekly L'Interprete at the "Pascal"
bus terminal in the Kinshasa commune of Masina. According to JED,
his family and lawyers later learned he was being held in a building
used by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) near the prime
minister's office. On March 29, Nsimba's assistant David Ntondo
Nzovuangu was also arrested. Nsimba's family and MONUC have both
been unsuccessful in obtaining information about them.
6. (U) Both journalists remain incommunicado; neither has been
charged. However, JED reported in an April 10 letter to Interior
Minister Denis Kalume that Communications Minister Emile Bongeli had
told the group Nsimba was being held for criticizing President
Kabila. L'Interprete claimed in its February 29 edition that Kabila
had been killed; it later revised its story to allege that he had
been wounded by his bodyguards. Before his arrest, Nsmiba claimed
he had received threats because of the allegations.
7. (SBU) On March 18, police arrested Dominique Kalonzo of community
radio Messager du Peuple while he was reporting from court in Uvira,
South Kivu. The station's director told MONUC's Radio Okapi that
the three police officers who arrested Kalonzo also took his
equipment. Kalonzo had received a summons to appear for questioning
in a case of "slander" against a local high school. Students had
complained about having to pay additional fees for classes held
during January 2008 holidays. Kalonzo told us April 9 that the
Uvira prosecutor ordered him released without charge following three
hours in jail.
Assaulted by police
8. (SBU) On January 13, police in Likasi, Katanga questioned Jacob
Shimbi of Radio-Television Likasi 4, who was filming the demolition
of illegal kiosks. According to L'Observatoire de la Liberte de la
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Presse en Afrique (OLPA), a Congolese advocacy NGO, police brutally
beat Shimbi after he was unable to show them his credentials as a
journalist and refused to give them his camera.
Maheshe murder case appeal
9. (SBU) On February 20, the Bukavu Military Tribunal opened
proceedings in the twice-postponed appeal of the four men convicted
for the June 13, 2007 murder of Radio Okapi editor Serge Maheshe.
On March 5, the Court denied a petition for release of Serge Mohima
and Alain Shamavu, friends of Maheshe convicted on the basis of
testimony by alleged perpetrators Freddy Bisimwa and Mugisho
Rwenzangabo. Bisimwa and Rwenzangabo had later recanted, and
accused two of the five military magistrates presiding at the appeal
of pressuring them to implicate Mohima and Samavu. The appeal is
10. (SBU) On March 7, MONUC's Human Rights office published a report
criticizing conduct of the August 7 trial which convicted the four.
The report called the proceedings flawed at every stage by serious
violations of the basic right to a fair trial. It also highlighted
the injustice of death sentences since the court had acknowledged
contradictions and lack of clarity in evidence. It specifically
criticized the prosecution's failure to follow up leads related to a
robbery by two soldiers and an altercation Maheshe had had with
officers of the presidential guard.
11. (SBU) Old habits die hard. Many officials will continue to use
defamation laws currently on the books to harass critics until
Parliament acts to close the gap between constitutional protections
and the repressive practices codified during the Mobutu regime. End