Reporters Without Borders notes that Nsimba Embete Ponte, the editor of the biweekly L’Interprète, was released yesterday on completing a 10-month prison sentence for “insulting” President Joseph Kabila by referring to rumours about his health in a series of articles.
Arrested on 7 March 2008 in Kinshasa by members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), Ponte was held incommunicado for three months in an ANR building on the bank of the River Congo before being transferred to the main Kinshasa penitentiary.
The sentence was imposed by a neighbourhood court in Kinshasa N’Djili on 27 November.
05.12.2008 - Nine and ten-month jail terms for two journalists who “insulted” President Kabila
Reporters Without Borders is shocked to learn that Nsimba Embete Ponte, the editor of the Kinshasa-based biweekly L’Interprète, has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for “insulting the head of state” and his assistant, David Tondo Nzovuanga, has been given a nine-month sentence on the same charge. Both have been detained since March.
“This belated sentencing was a sham staged with the sole aim of justifying their prolonged detention by the security services,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Arrested without charge, held incommunicado and now given jail sentences, these two journalists have been spared nothing.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We yet again remind the Congolese authorities that imprisonment is a disproportionate response in cases of defamation or insult to the head of state. It is therefore unacceptable that Embete Ponte and Tondo Nzovuanga should be held one day more.”
Under the sentences issued by a low-level court based in the Kinshasa N’Djili neighbourhood on 27 November, but not made public until a few days later, Embete Ponte will be released in January while Tondo Nzovuanga will be released later this month.
Embete Ponte and Tondo Nzovuanga were arrested on 7 and 29 March respectively in Kinshasa by members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in connection with a series of articles about President Joseph Kabila’s health. Initially charged with spreading gossip and false rumours, undermining state security and insulting the head of state, they were finally convicted only on the last charge.
Following their arrest, they were held incommunicado for three months in an ANR building on the bank of the River Congo. In early June, there were transferred to the main Kinshasa penitentiary while their case was assigned to the Kinshasa N’Djili neighbourhood court.
Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organisation in Democratic Republic of Congo, wrote to interior minister Denis Kalume Numbi on 10 April asking him to intervene in the case.
“In view of such a lack of transparency (...) this disturbing situation must be resolved quickly according to the rule of law, which the interior ministry is there to protect,” the letter said.
“Our two organisations urge you to obtain precise information from the agencies under your charge about the situation of Embete Ponte and Tondo Nzovuanga and to ensure that their rights are respected,” the letter continued. “We think it is essential that they should be taken before a judge at once if properly documented legal proceedings are to be initiated against them. Otherwise they should be released.”
Reporters Without Borders also condemns the decision by state-owned Radio Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) on 4 December to suspend 12 journalists and a video-editor for broadcasting footage of a street protest by members of the Congolese diaspora in Brussels against the fighting in the east of the country.
A woman carrying a placard saying “Kabila must leave” could be seen among the protesters. The journalists are accused of belonging to a “mysterious organisation with subversive designs.”