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Congo16 February 2004

Several complaints filed against weekly "L’Observateur" and its publication director

In late January 2004, managers of the Congolese National Petroleum Company (Société nationale des pétroles du Congo, SNPC) filed six separate complaints against the weekly "L’Observateur" at the Brazzaville High Court. Each complaint also includes a request for FCFA 3 million (approx. US$5,800; 4,570 euros) in damages and interest. Reporters Without Borders condemns this legal harassment, which may force the newspaper to close.

"These are not the first complaints against the weekly. On 21 January 2004, the court informed publication director Gislin Simplice Ongouya that on 2 July 2003, he was sentenced in absentia to pay a fine of FCFA 4.42 million (approx. 6,740 euros) for ’defamation’. He was given a deadline of 10 days to pay the fine and warned that bailiffs would otherwise seize his personal belongings and those of ’L’Observateur’," Reporters Without Borders explained. "Neither Mr. Ongouya nor his newspaper have the means to pay this heavy fine in such a short time. If the court should also rule in favour of the plaintiffs in the six other cases, the weekly will be forced to close without a doubt. We ask the judges handling these cases not to deliver a disproportionate sentence against the newspaper and to handle the complaints in an objective and independent manner," the organisation added.

On 31 January and 2 February 2004, the SNPC and its managers filed six complaints for "defamation" and "possession of stolen documents" against "L’Observateur" at the Brazzaville High Court. They blame the paper for publishing three articles in November 2003 in which SNPC managers were accused of misappropriating funds, poor management, arbitrary hirings and granting themselves excessive salaries.

On 2 July 2003, the Brazzaville High Court sentenced Ongouya in absentia for "defamation", but did not inform him of the decision. This followed the publication of a 19 February 2003 article entitled, "A group of 50 ANAC agents files a complaint against DG Tchikaya and DAF Mbela". Ongouya was only informed of his sentence and FCFA 4.42 million fine on 21 January 2004.

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