Democratic Republic of the Congo: Two editors face death penalty for criticizing Kabila

August 30, 2000

His Excellency Laurent-Dèsirè Kabila
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Ngaliema, Kinshasa
Democratic Republic of Congo

Fax: 011-234-88-02120/ 1-202-234-2609

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed at your government’s ongoing persecution of two Kinshasa weekly newspaper editors: Emile-Aimè Kakekese Vinalu of Le Carrousel, and Jean-Pierre Ekanga Mukuna of La Tribune de la Nation. Both journalists have been charged with high treason and face the death penalty if convicted, according to CPJ sources.

The prosecution arose from two articles that Vinalu published in the June 20 edition of Le Carrousel. One article lamented the lack of cooperation among various DRC opposition movements and charged that free speech was impossible in the DRC because “to dare speak one’s mind is a sure guarantee that one will be accused of endangering state security.” The other piece speculated on possible reasons behind a recent public confrontation between Your Excellency and Minister for Mineral Resources Victor M’Poyo (who was subsequently removed from his post).

Police arrested Vinalu on June 24. On July 26, the military prosecutor, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Alamba Mungako, told local reporters that Vinalu’s articles had had the effect of “demoralizing the Army,” describing them as “veiled calls to opposition leaders and sympathizers to rebel against the powers that be.” The military prosecutor further announced that Vinalu would be tried in a court martial because his alleged offenses amounted to “high treason,” an offense punishable by death.

Mukuna, meanwhile, had been arrested on July 23, reportedly for refusing to reveal Vinalu’s home address. Mukuna was released on July 10, but then re-arrested on August 17, when he appeared in court to testify on Vinalu’s behalf. He was also charged with high treason and jailed at Kinshasa’s Penitentiary and Reeducation Centre, where he remained as of today.

Another journalist, editor Richard Nsamba Olangi of Le Messager Africain, was arrested on August 15 when he arrived in court to testify on behalf of Vinalu. He was detained for two weeks without charge and then released, reportedly on bail.

Defense lawyer Katako Okende, meanwhile, has been jailed for alleged complicity with Vinalu and Mukuna. Okende, who is married to the minister of transportation and communications, has also been charged with “betrayal of the state in times of war” for possession of allegedly anti-government newspapers. He too faces the death penalty if convicted.

Your government currently has the worst press freedom record of any country in Africa. According to our research, more than 130 journalists and media workers have been harassed, beaten, arbitrarily imprisoned, or forced into exile since Your Excellency seized power in May, 1997. Several newspapers have been banned or seized at newsstands, private radio and television stations have been forcibly “nationalized,” while police raids on newsrooms, printing facilities, and the private homes of journalists are regular occurrences.
We need hardly remind Your Excellency that such activities are incompatible with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone “has the right to the freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

As the United Nations and other parties to the Congolese peace negotiations strive to secure a long-lasting truce among the warring factions, it is more important than ever to ensure that the people of the DRC have access to independent coverage of events in their country. We therefore urge you to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Emile-Aimè Kakekese Vinalu, Jean-Pierre Ekanga Mukuna, and all other individuals currently detained in connection with this case.

We await your comments on these urgent matters.



Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director