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Democratic Republic of Congo18 September 2007

UN radio journalist’s two convicted killers retract, clear his friends and accuse military judges

Reporters Without Borders and its partner organisation in Democratic Republic of Congo, Journalist in Danger (JED), are outraged that two petty criminals who were convicted by a military court of shooting UN radio journalist Serge Maheshe in the eastern city of Bukavu have written a letter accusing two military judges of bribing them to say two of Maheshe’s friends paid them to kill him. The two friends, Serge Mohima and Alain Shamavu, are under sentence of death, as are the two men who implicated them.

“This spectacular twist in the case exposes the gross incompetence of the investigation carried out by the military authorities in Bukavu, whom we already criticised despite the support they got from the central government,” the press freedom organisations said. “It also destroys the credibility of the military judges, who insisted on convicting Mohima and Shamavu despite acknowledging the existence of doubt.”

Reporters Without Borders and JED added : “It is now time this sordid farce came to an end. Maheshe’s family and friends have the right to know the truth. The real killers and those who really put them up to it must be arrested and punished.”

The two men convicted of the shooting, Freddy Bisimwa and Masasile Rwezangabo, both civilians with a record of petty crime in Bukavu, made their allegations in a letter in Swahili dated 8 September, which has been seen by a journalist working for Radio Okapi, the UN-backed radio station that Maheshe worked for as news editor of the Bukavu office.

They claimed in the letter that the two judges promised them that they would be quickly released and would receive a regular income if they testified that they shot Maheshe at the behest of his two friends. They said the judges provided them with the gun that had been used in the shooting and the SIM card from Maheshe’s mobile phone as evidence of their claims. They added that they now wanted to clear the two friends so that they could be released.

Reporters Without Borders has the names of the two judges but prefers not to identify them for the moment.

Maheshe was gunned down on a Bukavu street on the evening of 13 June as he was about to get into the marked UN vehicle he was using. The Bukavu military court handed down the four death sentences on 28 August at the end of a trial riddled with contradictions and absurdities. The court itself recognised that many aspects of the case were unclear.

Nonetheless, justice minister Georges Minsay Booka has told Reuters he had no plans to intervene in the case. “The innocent were freed, the guilty were convicted,” he insisted.

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