Serge Maheshe

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Maheshe, an editor and reporter for U.N.-sponsored Radio Okapi in the
eastern border town of Bukavu,
was gunned down as he was preparing to board a U.N vehicle with two friends,
according to news reports and CPJ interviews. The gunmen ordered the men to sit
on the ground and then shot the journalist several times in the chest and legs.
Maheshe’s companions were uninjured.

Radio Okapi reporters at the
Bukavu station, 950 miles (1,500 kilometers) east of the capital, Kinshasa, had
been frequently threatened for their coverage of clashes between rebel groups,
local militia, and government security forces in the region, said Leonard
Mulamba, deputy editor-in-chief of the network. In 2004, Maheshe was one of
four journalists who received threats after rebel
forces led by Laurent Nkunda invaded Bukavu.

Maheshe, 31, married and the father of two, had worked at the station since
2003 and was widely respected. Radio Okapi is a nationwide network of stations
set up by the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo and the Switzerland-based
Hirondelle Foundation. William L. Swing, the U.N.’s special representative in
DRC, condemned the murder and expressed his outrage at the crime.

Authorities arrested suspects and brought them to trial, but court
proceedings were widely criticized as flawed and biased.

An initial trial in August 2007 resulted in the convictions of four men,
including Maheshe’s two companions. The trial was marred by allegations of
irregularities, including charges of inadequate forensic investigation and the
prosecution’s sudden abandonment of theories implicating two soldiers as the
shooters. An appeal led to a retrial.

In a retrial that concluded in May 2008, a military tribunal
convicted three defendants— Freddy Bisimwa, Mastakila Rwezangabo, and Patient
Bisimwa Sikitu—and sentenced them to death. The trial failed to establish a motive for the crime, according to news reports and local journalists.

The tribunal overturned the convictions of Maheshe’s
companions, Alain Mulimbi and Serge Muhima, according to news reports. The companions
were originally convicted on conspiracy charges based on statements from the
accused gunmen. In a September 2007 letter from prison, the accused gunmen retracted their accusations and said they leveled the claims at the behest of two military judges.

The retrial was criticized by the U.N. mission in DRC for “many and
serious violations of the basic rights to a fair trial,” such as the
presumption of innocence and the proper handling of evidence, according to CPJ
research. There were reports of death threats against journalists, observers,
and lawyers at the retrial, according to local and international media.