DRC newspaper suspended, director jailed for defamation

New York, January 11, 2007—The director of a newspaper in the capital, Kinshasa, was jailed today for an 11-month term and his publication suspended for six weeks on a criminal defamation charge, according to the local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) and local journalists.

Rigobert Kwakala Kash, who also edits the private twice-weekly Le Moniteur, was arrested on a court order at his residence by armed special police agents, according to those sources. He briefly appeared before a state prosecutor before being taken to the central prison in Kinshasa. Kash had failed to appear at a one-day trial on December 27 and a default judgment was entered against him, according to Polydor Muboyayi, president of Observatory of Congolese Media, a media self-regulatory organization. Kash filed an appeal but must still post bail to regain his freedom, according to JED and Muboyayi.

The charge stems from a complaint by the provincial governor of southeastern Bas-Congo, Jacques Badu Situ, about a series of articles in November and December 2006 alleging embezzlement of public funds, according to JED and Muboyai. On Wednesday, the High Authority on Media (HAM), an official regulatory body, suspended the newspaper for six weeks after Kash failed to respond to official summonses, HAM First Vice President Bahekwa Kambale told CPJ.

“We condemn the imprisonment of Rigobert Ksakala Kash and urge the court of appeals to overturn his conviction,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to decriminalize defamation. Libel is a matter for civil, not criminal, courts.”

The DRC is expected to hold general elections for senators and governors this month after swearing in its first democratically elected president in more than 40 years in December. Several journalists had been jailed in the aftermath of last year’s presidential runoff between Jean-Pierre Bemba and victor Joseph Kabila, according to CPJ research.