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Democratic Republic of Congo11 September 2007

Journalist acquitted and released after 10 months in pretrial detention

Reporters Without Borders notes that Bosange Mbaka of the privately-owned newspaper Mambenga was finally released on 7 September, after being acquitted by a military tribunal in Kinshasa-Gombe. He spent 10 months in pretrial detention.

Mbaka has a right to demand reparations from the authorities, the press freedom organisation said. He was held for much too long on the basis of a prosecution case that made no sense.

Mbaka was arrested on 21 November 2006 in the company of supporters of Sen. Jean-Pierre Bemba who were protesting against his defeat in the previous month’s presidential election run-off. He was charged with stealing military property for picking up a walkie-talkie that had been dropped by a soldier.

He was held in the badly-overcrowded Kinshasa penitentiary, where conditions are appalling. Prosecutors requested a one-year prison sentence but the military tribunal dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

21.05.2007 - Call for release of reporter arrested six months ago and then forgotten in Kinshasa prison

Reporters Without Borders called today for the release of Bosange Mbaka, a reporter with the Kinshasa-based newspaper Mambenga, who was arrested exactly six months ago in a round-up of presumed sympathisers of former presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba. Nicknamed “Che Guevara,” Mbaka is from Equateur province, a Bemba stronghold. He was charged with stealing military property for picking up a mobile phone dropped by a soldier.

“It is time to put an end to Mbaka’s misfortunes, which highlight the grave shortcomings of the Congolese judicial system and the arbitrary practices of the police,” the press freedom organisation said. “It seems he was arrested and held all this time not because of the silly business of the phone but because of his nickname and origin, and because of a corrupt and flawed judicial system.”

Mbaka’s newspaper sent him to cover a hearing at the supreme court in Kinshasa on 21 November, when the court building was set on fire by protesters and clashes broke out between troops and Sen. Bemba’s supporters, who were disputing his defeat by President Joseph Kabila in the previous month’s presidential election run-off.

Mbaka picked up a telephone dropped by a soldier in the course of the fighting, and was going to hand it in to a guard post when he found himself being arrested. After being held for a month at the Police General Directorate for Special Services, known as “Kin Mazière,” he was transferred to the Kinshasa penitentiary.

Mbaka was interrogated about his work, his presence that day at the supreme court and, because he is from Equateur province, about his presumed support for Bemba. Many people from Equateur were rounded up at that time with the aim of neutralising real or imagined pro-Bemba activists.

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