Nicaise Kibel Bel Oka, the editor of the Les Coulisses newspaper, was released provisionally by a court in the eastern town of Butembo on 10 July after he paid bail of 161 euros. The court also agreed to hear his appeal and set a first hearing for 6 August.
Two other journalists, Lucien-Claude Ngongo and Albert Kassa Khamy Mouya, are still imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
22 june 2004
Newspaper editor sentenced to six months in prison for libel
Oka’s imprisonment is a "violation of press freedom," the organisation said. Oka was already detained when the court’s decision was read out, as he had been picked up a few hours previously by military intelligence agents on the orders of state prosecutor Tupa Kamango.
Reporters Without Borders pointed out that the UN human rights commission clearly stated on 18 January 2000 that imprisonment for libel is a flagrant violation of human rights.
"By once again jailing a journalist, the authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo have confirmed that they are taking a tougher line on the right to be informed," the organisation said. "There are many indications that this trial was not fair, that the right of defence was denied and that the court’s impartiality was in doubt," the organisation added.
Oka was convicted of defaming a leading local businessman, Jacques Kyangu, in an article published on 28 November accusing him of committing customs fraud by making a truck carrying imported goods disappear between the Ugandan and DRC border posts and by understating the size of an imported shipment of petroleum products.
Oka was also alleged to have tried to swindle Kyangu by asking 1,600 euros as the price for the right of response in the newspaper.
Oka’s lawyer claimed at the appeal hearing that Oka did not get a fair trial, pointing out that the judge had refused to consider evidence supporting the newspaper’s fraud allegations and that Kyangu’s lawyer is a friend of the prosecutor (he was a witness at the prosecutor’s marriage and works for his wife’s law firm).