Kabala, publication director of the independent daily Alerte Plus, based in the capital, Kinshasa, was arrested by plainclothes police officers and detained at the provincial police department. The next day, he was transferred to Kinshasa’s Penitentiary and Reeducation Center (CPRK).
According to local sources, Kabala’s arrest stemmed from a July 11 Alerte Plus article reporting that Minister of Public Order and Security Mwenze Kongolo had allegedly been poisoned. The newspaper learned that the information was false and published a correction the next day.
According to the local press freedom group Journaliste En Danger (JED), Kabala claims that authorities repeatedly questioned him about the article’s sources and tortured him during his detention.
On the afternoon of July 22, officers of the Kinshasa/Matete Appeals Court Prosecutor’s Office arrested Delly Bonsange, the journalist who had written the offending article. He spent the night in police custody, and authorities questioned him about the report the next day. He was later transferred to the CPRK.
On September 6, a Kinshasa court convicted Kabala and Bonsange of “harmful accusations,” “writing falsehoods,” and “falsification of a public document.” Kabala was sentenced to 12 months in prison and fined US$200,000. Bonsange was sentenced to six months and fined US$100,000.
According to a JED representative who attended the court proceedings, the “falsification of a public document” charge came because the actual address of Alerte Plus’ office differs from the one listed in the paper.
On September 26, Bonsange was transferred to Kinshasa’s General Hospital after a doctor found his blood sugar levels unusually high. The journalist told JED that, during the first days of his detention, officials had barred him from taking his diabetes medication and following his usual diet.
According to JED, on November 21, a Kinshasa appeals court ruled that the charge against Bonsange of “writing falsehoods” was unfounded but upheld the charge of “falsification of a public document.” The journalist’s six-month prison sentence was dropped, and he was released on December 3. He was, however, fined US$750.
The court upheld the charges and the fine against Kabala but reduced his prison sentence from 12 to seven months.