New York, January 18, 2005—A reporter with the independent Congolese daily La Référence Plus was sentenced in absentia to four months in jail for criminal defamation on January 5, according to local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) and sources at the newspaper. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the ruling and called on the government to repeal repressive laws that criminalize alleged press offenses.
The reporter, Deo Mulima Kampuku, went into hiding after the charge was brought by Guillaume Bolenga, head of the management committee of Cobil Oil in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The journalist was also ordered to pay a fine equivalent to about $140, according to JED.
A court in Kinshasa handed down the sentence in connection with Mulima’s December 21 article in La Référence Plus. The article accused Cobil Oil of misusing public funds and said that Bolenga held two incompatible positions—the other as principal private secretary to former Energy Minister Kalema Losona.
Losona was suspended in November following a parliamentary inquiry that accused him of corruption.
La Référence Plus, which was also ordered to pay a symbolic fine of less than $1 to Bolenga, is appealing the verdict of behalf of itself and its reporter. The appeal is due to be heard on January 26, according to JED.
“CPJ is deeply disturbed by this sentence against Deo Mulima Kampuku, who was reporting on a matter of public interest,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the authorities in DRC to remove criminal penalties for press offenses so that journalists can go about their work without fear of reprisal.”