In DRC, journalist jailed after seeking comment from official

New York, May 10, 2007— The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by the detention since Sunday of a private newspaper director in the capital, Kinshasa, after he sought comments from a government official. CPJ last week named DRC one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.

Jean Pierre Phambu Lutette, director of the private bi-weekly La Tolérance was arrested by police when he arrived for an interview with Pauline Ipelueka, a municipal building official, in connection with a criminal case against her, according to local journalists. Sylvain Kayumba, a lawyer for a leading Congolese press group, said Ipelueka had alerted police after someone posing as an intermediary falsely said that Lutette intended to blackmail her.

Ipelueka has since withdrawn her complaint, but the journalist remained in jail today on charges of “threatening and attempting extortion,” Kayumba told CPJ. Kayumba works with the Observatory of Congolese Media, a media self-regulatory organization. The group condemned the arrest and addressed a protest letter to the state prosecutor, its president, Polydor Muboyayi told CPJ.

“We are deeply troubled by Jean Pierre Phambu Lutette’s detention. His arrest fits the pattern of imprisonment and judicial harassment of journalists that CPJ has documented over the last several years,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to immediately drop these groundless charges and free Lutette immediately.”

This is the third time in two years that Lutette has been jailed for his work, according to CPJ research. He was imprisoned for three weeks in 2005 and a month in 2006 over critical articles.

Lutette’s arrest comes shortly after World Press Freedom Day, May 3. Marking that day, Information Minister Toussaint Tshilombo stated that press freedom was “respected” in the DRC, according to the private Radio Okapi. The station quoted Tshilombo as saying that only one journalist had been jailed in the country—for reasons not related to journalism—since the new government took power on February 24.

But since the transition, CPJ research shows, authorities have sentenced a journalist to prison, occupied and ransacked the broadcast stations of opposition leader Jean Pierre Bemba, raided three provincial radio stations, and detained a radio journalist for two days over critical coverage.