Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its appeal to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s transitional government to amend its press legislation after Déo Mulima Kampuku of the independent daily La Référence Plus was sentenced in absentia to four months in prison and a fine for alleged libel in an article about corruption in an oil company.
Kampuku has been in hiding since the end of December after learning that he was going to be prosecuted.
"It is shameful that the DRC continues to put its journalists behind bars for defamation," Reporters Without Borders said. "Its legislation is not only contrary to the UN-backed principle that press offences should be decriminalized, but it borders on the absurd when it leads to the imprisonment of journalists who are just doing their job by exposing corruption."
La Référence Plus is one of the DRC’s leading newspapers and is known for its sober news coverage.
Its 21 December issue carried a report by Kampuku about the imminent sale of the Cobil Oil group which drew attention to the fact that the president of the Cobil Oil management committee, Guillaume Bolenga, was at the same time chief of staff of energy minister Kalema Losona (who was fired by President Joseph Kabila in November after a parliamentary report accused him of embezzlement).
Journalist in Danger (JED), Reporters Without Borders’ partner organisation in Kinshasa, reported that the article referred to abuses committed by a number of companies including Cobil Oil, saying: "Like vultures, Congolese (...) commit abuses with corporate assets (...) But the most flagrant case today is that of the company Cobil Oil."
Kampuku asked if , "the DRC has become a banana republic or, rather, a Far West in which honest men are sidelined while egoists and other adventurers are praised or indeed glorified for their achievements in embezzlement, despoliation and misappropriation of public funds."
Kampuku and the editors of La Référence Plus were summoned to appear before a Kinshasa court on 23 December, but none of them went. Kampuku was sentenced in absentia on 5 January to four months in prison and a fine 63,260 CFA francs (97 euros), while the newspaper was fined 100 CFA francs (less than 1 euro). Their lawyers have appealed and the next hearing is set for 26 January.