Democratic Republic of the Congo: Jailed journalist freed

December 30, New York — The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from prison today of Joseph Mbakulu Pambu Diana, a Congolese broadcast journalist who had been in jail since 1998 for allegedly collaborating with rebel forces during their occupation of the town of Matadi.

In early August 1998, rebels from the Congolese Rally for Democracy seized the state-owned Radio-Television Matadi (RTM) and forced its employees, including Pambu Diana, to work for them. At the end of August, the Congolese Armed Forces regained control of Matadi. The army ordered intelligence agents to raid RTM’s studio and seize all its tapes for judicial scrutiny.

On October 24, 1998, Pambu Diana, who is also head of the Congolese Press Union, was arrested, charged with conspiracy against the state and distribution of false news, and detained at Kinshasa’s Penitentiary and Reeducation Center.

On December 30, 1999, the Congolese Court of Military Order in Kinshasa acquitted Pambu Diana of all charges. In his concluding statement, trial judge Edouard Phongo Bokako stated that the prosecution had not managed to establish its charges, either in fact or in law.

While encouraged by Pambu Diana’s release, CPJ remains highly concerned about the appalling situation of press freedom in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1999 alone, more than seventy journalists and media workers were attacked, tortured, threatened with legal action or arbitrarily detained in the DRC. There were few signs of improvement at year’s end.

On December 8, 1999, for example, police officers seized copies of the satirical weekly Pot-Pourri and arrested two of its vendors. The raid was prompted by a piece in that day’s edition of the paper alleging corruption in the granting of public contracts. As of December 30, one of the newspaper vendors was still detained without charge.

Djodjo Kazadi, publisher of the private weekly La Palme d’Or, has been in illegal detention since November 7, 1999. According to CPJ’s sources, his arrest was part of a campaign of reprisals against La Palme d’Or for a November 4 article alleging that residents of Kivu province, which borders Rwanda, planned a citizens’ arrest of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila for allegedly “selling their province to Rwandans and Burundians.”