One journalist freed, another still in jail without charge

New York, November 8, 2005—A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo today freed journalist Jean-Marie Kanku on bail after 12 days of detention, press freedom group Journaliste en danger (JED) said. But journalist Patrice Booto, who was detained last week without charge, remains behind bars, JED said.

Local journalists raised the detention of both men in a meeting yesterday with Vice President Azerias Ruberwa which was called to demand an independent inquiry into the November 3 murder of veteran journalist Franck Kangundu and his wife. The journalists also demanded better security for the media in the run-up to 2006 elections.

“These clearly arbitrary detentions along with the murder of Franck Kangundu and his wife suggest that press conditions in the DRC, already bad, are deteriorating,” said Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Unless the government can find a way to improve security for the press prior to elections next year it will jeopardize the legitimacy of those elections,” she added.

Kanku, publisher of the private newspaper L’Alerte, told JED he had been charged with publishing “false information” in connection with articles attacking Lando Lurhakumbirwa, director of the state intelligence agency, the ANR. The national security court released him on bail equivalent to $150, ordered him to check in with the court on Tuesdays and Fridays, and not to leave the country.

Booto remains in detention at a Kinshasa police station following his arrest on November 2. He has not been formally charged or brought before a court. Booto is publisher of the thrice-weekly Le Journal and its sister publication, Pool Malebo. Both publications were suspended for three months in September by the independent but officially sanctioned High Authority on Media (HAM), after they published articles alleging that the DRC government had given a large sum of money to Tanzanian education agencies, at a time when Congolese teachers were on strike for more pay. Some local sources suspected that the HAM’s action was the product of political pressure.

The meeting with Vice President Ruberwa was held after 1,000 journalists and other media workers joined a large silent demonstration in Kinshasa to protest the killing of Kangundu, a political affairs journalist with the private daily La Référence Plus, and his wife at their home. Although the motive for the double murder is not known, journalists fear that it may be related to Kangundu’s journalistic work. The government has announced the arrest of two suspects and promised to set up an inquiry.