A CPJ representative and members of the local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) visited the journalists in Kinshasa Prison on Sunday, June 6. In addition to Kassa and Bokela, Lucien-Claude Ngongo, deputy editor of weekly newspaper Fair Play, has been jailed since May 19, also on defamation charges.
The charges against Kassa stem from a March 2004 article in Le Lauréat about a legal battle between expatriate businessmen William Damseaux and Berge NaNikian, according to JED. Damseaux's lawyer, Marceline Tshitoko, brought the charge, claiming that the article defamed her.
Kassa told CPJ that Grégoire Agboya, an occasional stringer for Le Lauréat, wrote the piece, but that judicial authorities were holding him responsible as the publication director at the time the report was printed. Kassa says he left Le Lauréat in January, but that the newspaper continued to print his name as its publication director after his departure.
Congolese law states that if the author of an offending article cannot be found, either the publication director or the editor can be held responsible.
The charges against Bokela were filed by the former president of the Congolese boxing federation, Aimé Luvumbu, in connection with a February 18, 2004, article in Le Collecteur titled "Aimé Luvumbu should be in the central prison," according to JED. The article accused Luvumbu of malfeasance when he was head of the boxing federation. Bokela told CPJ he had been asked repeatedly to reveal his sources, and that judicial authorities think he wrote the story, which he says he did not author.
The defamation charges against Fair Play deputy editor Ngongo stem from articles questioning why Belgian businessman Damseaux, who is wealthy, had been awarded indigent status and therefore did not have to pay legal costs in his court battle with Namikian. Ngongo told CPJ he had been questioned about an article signed by stringer Grégoire Agboya, and that judicial authorities believe that this is his pseudonym.
The delegation that visited the journalists in prison included CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Julia Crawford; Dr. Philippe Dahinden, of the Switzerland-based Hirondelle Foundation, who is consulting for CPJ's mission as an independent expert; JED President M'baya Tshimanga; and JED Legal Adviser Charles-Mugagga Mushizi.
"These journalists are being held in an overcrowded jail where conditions are very difficult, compounding the injustice of their incarceration," said Crawford. "The three journalists should be released immediately"