Democratic Republic of the Congo: Editor faces death penalty for reporting coup plot

Click here to read CPJ’s protest letter

New York, March 13, 2000 — CPJ is deeply concerned for the safety of DRC journalist Freddy Loseke Lisumbu la Yayenga, who faces the death penalty for having reported on a military coup plot against President Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

In the early hours of December 31, 1999, armed soldiers under the command of an officer known as Chief Iduma arrested Loseke, editor of the Kinshasa-based private weekly La Libre Afrique, at his Kinshasa residence. Loseke was taken to the Kokolo military base, where prison guards tore off his clothes. He was then flogged by General Hilaire Muland Kapend, chief commander of the 7th Military Region, and left to spend New Year’s Eve in a dingy, windowless cell.

The arrest apparently resulted from two articles by Loseke that appeared in the December 29 and December 31 issues of La Libre Afrique. Both pieces warned of an imminent army-sponsored plot to overthrow Your Excellency. Sources in Kinshasa told CPJ that Loseke has been accused of “betrayal of the state in times of war.” If convicted, he faces the death penalty. La Libre Afrique, meanwhile, ceased publication upon Loseke’s arrest.

Loseke escaped from detention on January 9, allegedly with the help of a high-ranking officer at the Kokolo military base. Police then arrested twenty members of his family, including his wife and five children, one of whom was a six-month-old baby. The next day, Loseke walked into a Kinshasa police station and surrendered to obtain his family’s release. He was immediately driven back to the Kokolo military base, where he was again flogged and placed in solitary confinement.

On January 11, Loseke appeared before the Court of Military Order (COM). Despite the DRC’s constitutional due process guarantees, he was denied legal representation. During the hearing, he was forced to reveal confidential sources. He identified General Kapend as the chief conspirator, outlined the coup conspiracy, and named the plotters’ meeting spot. As a result of Loseke’s forced testimony, police arrested several suspects, including General Kapend (who was later released).

Loseke himself remains in police custody at Kinshasa Penitentiary and Re-education Center, (CPRK) where he was transferred on February 25. No future hearings have been scheduled.

In a series of letters sent from prison to local human rights groups, Loseke has expressed fear for his life.