The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged at the five-year sentence given to Donatien Nyembo Kimuni, Lubumbashi correspondent for the Kinshasa-based private weekly La Tribune, on a charge of defamation.
The charge stemmed from a June 5 La Tribune article by Kimuni titled, “Congo Mineral: Workers Are Paid Poorly and Exploited.” According to journalists at La Tribune, Kimuni had based his article on a report from a public mining firm and the testimony of local miners who alleged that Congo Mineral, a private mining company, provided poor working conditions for its employees.
Congo Mineral sent La Tribune a response to Kimuni’s article, which the paper published in a subsequent edition. However, the company also filed a defamation charge against the journalist.
On July 11, a court in Likasi, a town located 120 km (74 miles) from Lubumbashi in the southern Katanga Province, convicted Kimuni in absentia, sentenced him to five years in prison, and ordered his immediate arrest.
Kimuni told the Congolese press freedom group Journaliste En Danger that he and his lawyers, who live in Lubumbashi, were unable to attend the court hearing because the road to Likasi was blocked after soldiers had clashed with students early in the day on the University of Lubumbashi campus. Kimuni is currently in hiding.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, we condemn Kimuni’s conviction and sentence–the most severe any journalist has received since Your Excellency has been in office. Journalists should never be imprisoned for reporting on matters of public concern, as was Kimuni. There is a growing consensus among the international community that civil remedies provide adequate redress for press offenses.
We therefore call on you to do everything within your power to ensure that the sentence against Kimuni is revoked. We also urge your government to work toward decriminalizing all press offenses in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We thank you for your attention in this urgent matter. We await your reply.