Journalist freed after nine months in jail

New York, August 4, 2006—Patrice Booto, publisher of two Congolese newspapers, was freed on Thursday evening after spending nine months in prison for running stories that said the government had directed millions of dollars to neighboring Tanzania, the local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger reported.

“This egregious case highlights the urgent need for the new government to overhaul the country’s outdated and repressive press laws,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

Booto, publisher of the thrice-weekly Le Journal and its supplement Pool Malebo, was arrested on November 2 of last year after his newspapers reported that the government had given US$30 million to Tanzanian education agencies at the same time that Congolese teachers were on strike seeking higher pay. He was charged with reporting false information, offending the head of state, and insulting the government.

On May 30, Booto was sentenced to six months in prison and fined the equivalent of US$500. The court ruled that he could go free on payment of the fine since he had already served seven months in prison. The journalist subsequently paid the fine, JED reported, but the state prosecutor appealed the verdict and Booto remained in jail.

Booto was finally freed after an appeals court in the capital, Kinshasa, issued a ruling dated July 27. The court upheld Booto’s conviction for publishing false information but acquitted him of the other two charges, according to JED and Booto’s lawyer.