May 3, 2000
His Excellency Laurent-Désiré Kabila
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo
VIA FAX: 011-234-88-02120 / 1-202-234-2609
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to remind you that the illegal detention of Freddy Loseke Lisumbu la Yayenga, editor of the Kinshasa-based weekly La Libre Afrique, is entering its fifth consecutive month.
As we stated in a letter sent to Your Excellency on March 13, in the early hours of December 31, 1999, armed soldiers under the command of an officer known as Chief Iduma arrested Loseke at his Kinshasa residence. He 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, according to CPJ’s Congolese and international sources.
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, with the help of a high-ranking officer at the Kokolo military base, CPJ’s Congolese sources say. 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, according to international news reports).
Loseke himself remains in police custody at Kinshasa Penitentiary and Re-education Center (CPRK), where he was transferred on February 25.
In a series of letters sent from prison to local human rights groups, Loseke has expressed fear for his life. In late February, members of the Congolese press freedom group Journalistes En Danger (JED), who visited Loseke in his prison cell at the 7th Military Region, reported that he bore marks of physical abuse. JED also reported that Loseke was not being properly fed because visits from his wife and family were strictly forbidden.
On April 14, a physically exhausted Loseke once again appeared before the Court of Military Order, this time with legal representation. In their closing argument, Loseke’s lawyers pleaded for his temporary release from detention for health reasons (Loseke suffers from kidney failure, concurring sources in Kinshasa reported). The motion, however, was quickly dismissed by the presiding military judge. No further developments have been reported to CPJ since that time.
Loseke’s prolonged detention, and the murkiness of the legal procedure against him, are a blatant violation of his internationally-recognized rights as a journalist, and of DRC’s constitutional due process guarantees. CPJ believes that Loseke did nothing other than seek, receive and circulate information, a right affirmed for all people in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We respectfully remind Your Excellency that you promised to respect press freedom when you spoke at the United Nations headquarters in New York in January. May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, an excellent opportunity for Your Excellency to demonstrate your commitment to your stated principles by ensuring that Freddy Loseke Lisumbu La Yayenga is immediately and unconditionally released.
We await your comments on this urgent matter.
Ann K. Cooper