New York, February 15, 2013–Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo should release pending appeal a journalist who was sentenced to six months in prison in December on defamation charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The journalist was taken into custody on Tuesday.
Police arrested Joachim Diana Gikupa, editor of the private daily La Colombe in Kinshasa, and held him at a local court before transferring him to Malaka central prison, according to local news reports. Gikupa’s lawyers filed an appeal, saying the journalist was in poor health and should be released on bail, according to the U.N.-backed broadcaster Radio Okapi. Gikupa was also ordered to pay US$20,000 in damages, local press freedom groups reported.
Gikupa was convicted of criminal defamation after publishing a February 9, 2012, report that alleged the sale of expired medication, among other things, by a Chinese company that managed a local hospital, local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) reported. The company, Gen Taï, denied the allegations and filed a complaint against Gikupa, Scotty Kalonji, an editor with La Colombe, told CPJ.
“We condemn the Democratic Republic of Congo’s continued use of criminal defamation charges to jail journalists for their critical reporting on issues of public interest,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “Joachim Diana Gikupa should be released on bail pending his appeal, and we urge the DRC to refer matters of defamation to civilian tribunals. Critical journalists are not criminals.”