Journalist convicted in secret in defamation case, JED says

New York, June 23, 2006—A journalist imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo since April on defamation charges was secretly convicted and sentenced to four months in jail over a week ago, a press freedom group reported today.

The Kinshasa-based organization, Journaliste en Danger (JED), told the Committee to Protect Journalists that one of its lawyers found evidence of the verdict in a court file while researching a separate case. The lawyer plans to file an appeal on behalf of the journalist on Saturday, and JED will be supplying a legal defense team, JED secretary-general Tshivis Tshivuadi said.

Kazadi Kwambi Kasumpata, of the small private weekly Lubilanji Expansion, was sentenced on June 14 to four months in jail and fined the equivalent of US$5,000 for allegedly defaming the Protestant University of Congo in an article accusing university administrators of embezzlement and poor management, JED reported. Kasumpata, who has been in Kinshasa’s central prison since his arrest on April 20, was not aware of the verdict until JED’s discovery.

“The secret conviction and sentencing of Kazadi Kwambi Kasumpata violates every principle of law and natural justice,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “This verdict should be immediately quashed and Kasumpata should be released immediately,” Cooper said.

“The Democratic Republic of Congo is increasingly denying journalists due process, and using anachronistic criminal defamation laws to stifle and intimidate the press,” she added.

Another Congolese journalist, Patrice Booto, has been in prison since November 2, 2005. Booto was sentenced on May 30 to six months in prison and fined the equivalent of $500 for “offending the head of state,” and “insulting the government,” according to JED.

The court ruled that Booto could go free upon payment of the fine, since he had already served his sentence. However, even though Booto subsequently paid the fine, he is still in custody because the state prosecutor has appealed the verdict. Booto appeared in court today, but the judge did not rule on whether he could be released, according to JED. His next hearing has been scheduled for July 6. Booto, publisher of the thrice-weekly Le Journal and its supplement Pool Malebo, was arrested 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.

“Patrice Booto’s continued imprisonment is a travesty of justice, and he should be released immediately,” Cooper added.

CPJ research has documented an increase in attacks on the press in the run-up to national elections scheduled for July 30. For more information, see CPJ’s June 15 letter: