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Four newspapers suspended in Republic of Congo

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New York, June 7, 2013--Authorities in the Republic of Congo should lift the suspensions against four weekly newspapers in connection with their articles critical of government officials, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The suspensions were handed down by an official board whose 11 members are all hand-picked by the president.

"Authorities in the Republic of Congo are using punitive legal measures to intimidate critics in the press, and avoid public scrutiny and accountability," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "They should lift these censorship orders immediately."

The state-run High Council on Freedom of Communication (known as CSLC) on June 1 suspended L'Observateur, Talassa, and Le Trottoir for four months, accusing them of incitement to violence, defamation, and dishonoring government officials, according to news reports and local journalists. The ruling cited an article that the papers had republished from the France-based bimonthly magazine Afrique Education that accused President Denis Sassou Nguesso of involvement in the assassination of military ruler Marien Ngouabi in 1977. Sassou Nguesso has denied involvement in the murder, according to Reuters.

The council also imposed a two-month suspension on Le Glaive, accusing the newspaper of "repeated refusal to obey and respond to inquiries from the Council," Reuters reported. Guy Milex Mbondzi, a contributor to Le Glaive, told CPJ that the suspension was in retaliation to the weekly's investigation into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' practices in issuing diplomatic passports. The paper had published a series of articles saying the ministry was issuing diplomatic passports in contravention of Congolese legal requirements. In conjunction with the stories, they also printed copies of passport applications of several individuals whom reports said did not qualify to receive diplomatic passports.

Foreign Affairs Minister Basile Ikouébé issued a May 22 press statement in response to the articles that said the documents were illegally obtained from the state's archives. He accused Le Glaive of participating in a "campaign of denigration" and "systematic acts of provocation," and called on the council to take action against the newspaper.

In September 2012, the council handed Le Glaive a six-month suspension and the weekly La Voix du Peuple a nine-month suspension in connection with a series of articles that were critical of the council's leadership and methods, according to news reports.

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