afrol News, 9 September - The prison sentence for two leaders of Kinshasa's 'Alerte Plus' newspaper for defamation has caused protest. The freedom of the press was seriously at danger with this "disproportional" sentence, the French media watchdog Reporters sans frontières (RSF) said.
On 6 September 2002, Raymond Kabala, director of the 'Alerte Plus' publication, and Delly Bonsange, the publisher of the same newspaper, were sentenced to term of twelve and six months in prison respectively. The Kinshasa-N'Dijili Peace Court found them guilty of "harmful accusations" and "falsification of a public document."
The prison sentences were without any possibility of parole. The two journalists were also sentenced to pay a total of 300,000 dollars (about 306,000 euros) in damages to Mwenze Kongolo. They are being held in the Kinshasa Penitentiary and Re-education Centre (CPRK), according to information gathered by RSF.
Raymond Kabala and Delly Bonsange had been arrested on 19 and 22 July, respectively, after they had published an article affirming that the Minister of Security and Public Order, Mwenze Kongolo, "was allegedly poisoned." On the very next day after the article appeared, 'Alerte Plus' printed a correction, acknowledging that the information was untrue.
RSF today expressed its "strong disapproval" of the sentence rendered against the two managers of the 'Alerte Plus' newspaper. The Secretary-General of the group, Robert Ménard, insisted that the two be set free, without conditions.
- In terms of press freedom, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the most repressive countries on the African continent, Ménard said in a letter sent to the Congolese President, Joseph Kabila. "The Congolese courts are not in the least reluctant to mete out prison terms and impose exorbitant fines," he stressed.
- In this particular case, it is obvious that the sentences rendered will force the publication to shut down, delivering yet another blow to the already weak Congolese private press, Ménard added.
Without expressing an opinion on the substance of this case, Reporters sans frontières urged the Head of State to "do whatever necessary to obtain the release of both journalists."
The group reminded Mr Kabila that, in a document published in January 2000, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression had appealed to all governments to "ensure that offences related to the press not be punishable by imprisonment," deeming such penalties to be "disproportional to the damage done to the victim."
According to RSF's 2002 annual report, "freedom of expression does not exist" in Congo Kinshasa. Despite some improvement at the end of 2001, "attacks on press freedom in the areas under government control are still frequent, and journalists are still threatened in the areas held by rebel movements." Eleven journalists were jailed and released during last year.
Sources: Based on RSF and afrol archives