Jailed reporter freed

New York, February 11, 2005—A reporter with the Congolese private daily La Référence Plus jailed on defamation charges has been freed, CPJ has learned. A Kinshasa court granted José Wakadila a provisional release on February 8. He was freed that day after paying bail equivalent to US$200, according to local press freedom group Journaliste en danger (JED).

Wakadila was arrested and jailed on January 31, 2005, in the western town of Matadi. He had gone into hiding there after two executives of the national oil refinery SOCIR brought defamation charges against him for a July 2004 story about alleged corruption in SOCIR.

In September, a Kinshasa court sentenced Wakadila in absentia to 11 months in jail. But André Ipakala, editor of the Kinshasa-based La Référence Plus, told CPJ that neither the newspaper nor Wakadila’s lawyer had been informed of the court judgment. The newspaper has appealed.

“We welcome the release of José Wakadila but remain deeply concerned about a recent upsurge of attacks on the press in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

Another La Référence Plus reporter, Deo Mulima Kampuku, was sentenced in absentia in January to four months in jail for criminal defamation. He is currently in hiding.

In January, officials cut transmissions of two private TV stations and a radio station—Canal Kin TV (CKTV), Canal Congo TV (CCTV), and Radio Liberté Kinshasa (RALIK). The move came after the outlets broadcast an interview criticizing president Joseph Kabila. A memo issued by Information Minister Henri Mova Sakanyi stated that “religious and thematic” broadcasters should refrain from airing all news and political programs and ordered the suspension of live phone-in programs.

DRC’s media regulatory body, known by its French acronym HAM, this week condemned the order to cut the broadcasters’ transmissions, as well as the minister’s memo, declaring them illegal, according to reports in the local press.

The country’s transition constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The HAM was set up under the country’s peace accords and is headed by Modeste Mutinga, a former recipient of a CPJ international press freedom award. The current transition period is due to culminate in democratic elections this year.