Journalist sentenced to six months for “insulting government”

New York, May 30, 2006—A Kinshasa court today sentenced journalist Patrice Booto to six months in prison and a $500 fine for “offending the head of state,” and “insulting the government,” according to local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED). The court ruled that Booto, who has already spent more than six months in jail, is eligible for release upon payment of the fine within one week. If he fails to pay, his sentence will be extended by three months.

“Patrice Booto has spent more than six months in jail, where he should never have been sent in the first place,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “He should be freed from jail immediately.”

Booto, publisher of the thrice-weekly Le Journal and its supplement Pool Malebo, was arrested on November 2 after both newspapers published an article that claimed the government had given a large sum of money to Tanzanian education agencies while Congolese teachers were on strike for more pay. Booto was denied bail while awaiting trial, despite pressure from local and international press freedom groups.

The journalist was acquitted of a charge of publishing false news, according to JED.

Journalists reporting on corruption and human rights abuses in DRC face the constant threat of detention without due process, especially under the country’s archaic defamation and “insult” laws. Most of these cases never go to trial, making Booto’s case unusual.