Reporters Without Borders today condemned the three-month prison sentence and heavy fine that a court in Boma, in the western province of Bas-Congo, imposed on Popol Ntula Vita, the local correspondent of the privately-owned weekly La Cité Africaine, for accusing a tax official of corruption. Ntula Vita was not in court for the trial and has since had to go into hiding.
“The Cité Africaine article, which was backed by figures and documents, was about a common form of embezzlement within the Congolese civil service, where there is nearly always a difference between the amount invoiced for a service and the amount paid,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The judiciary is also affected by corruption, with relatively small sums often being paid to obtain orders from judges,” the press freedom organisation said. “For this reason, the government cannot claim that it wants to combat corruption and at the same time let a journalist be convicted under absurd legislation.”
Ntula Vita was sentenced by the Boma court on 26 February to three months in prison and a fine of 6,450 dollars for libelling the head of the local tax office and three of his assistants by reporting in a 6 January article that they overcharged for licence plates and pocketed the difference. The prosecutor had requested a 12-month sentence.
Under Democratic Republic of Congo law, a person is deemed to have been libelled when their “honour or reputation” is attacked, regardless of the truth of the allegations made against them.