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Democratic Republic of Congo5 February 2008

Military appeal court urged to clear two men convicted of masterminding murder of journalist who was their friend

Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organisation in Democratic Republic of Congo, urge the military judicial authorities in the eastern city of Bukavu to release Serge Muhima and Alain Mulimbi Shamavu, close friends of slain journalist Serge Maheshe, as it is clear they were wrongly convicted in August of instigating his murder.

The two organisations have learned from the United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) that a military court in Bukavu will begin tomorrow to hear the appeals of Muhima and Shamavu, and those of the two men convicted of carrying out the murder, Freddy Bisimwa Matabaro and Mugisho Rwezangabo Mastakila, two civilians with a record of petty crime in Bukavu.

“The military judicial authorities in Bukavu must defend their honour by freeing Maheshe’s two friends, against whom there are no other charges,” Reporters Without Borders and JED said. “They must develop a completely different theory of how Maheshe came to be murdered if justice is to be properly rendered to his family and colleagues, and the military judges responsible for last August’s shocking parody of a trial must be called to account. This miscarriage of justice has gone on long enough.”

On 28 August, a Bukavu military court sentenced Matabaro and Mastakila to death for the murder of Maheshe in June. It also sentenced Maheshe’s two friends, who were with him at the time, to death for “criminal association.” The court based its convictions solely on the “confessions” made by Matabaro and Mastakila and their testimony that Maheshe’s two friends were the instigators. No motive for the murder and no material evidence was produced. When issuing its verdict, the court acknowledged that many aspects of the case were unclear.

Then, in a letter dated 8 September, Matabaro and Mastakila accused two military judges of bribing them to implicate Muhima and Shamavu. They claimed in the letter, a copy of which is held by Reporters Without Borders and JED, that the two judges promised 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 gave them information to support this story as well as the murder weapon and the SIM card from Maheshe’s mobile phone. They added that they now wanted to clear Muhima and Shamavu so that they could be released.

Maheshe worked for UN-backed Radio Okapi as news editor of its Bukavu office. He 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.

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