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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
DR Congo accused of torturing journalist
President Joseph Kabila
Kabila had promised to stop mistreatment of journalists

A Congolese human rights organisation has condemned the recent arrest and alleged torture of several people on the government side of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


We are appealing to the president of the republic to do what he can to stop such behaviour.

Lawyer Sebastian Kayembe

The Congolese Human Rights Observatory (OCDH) say a recent case involved the brutal treatment of a journalist whose only mistake, it seems, was to publish rumours about the ill-health of one of President Joseph Kabila's most senior ministers.

The government has refuted the group's claims and say the mentioned minister will sue for libel.

Torture claims

Raymond Kabala, Director of publications of the Kinshasa daily, Alerte Plus, has been behind bars since 19 July.

He was arrested for publishing an article a week earlier concerning the health of Minister of National Security and Public Order Mwenze Kongolo.

The article contained false information, and the next day Mr Kabala's paper ran an apology.

Apparently this was not enough.

He was picked up and - according to a testimony obtained by the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights - Mr Kabala was taken to the minister's office, where he said he was beaten, threatened and sexually tortured.

According to the testimony, he was then taken manacled to the bank of the river Congo, where he was forced to identify the author of the article.

"That's why we are deeply concerned, and we think that that kind of situation is not acceptable," Lawyer Sebastian Kayembe, head of OCDH, said.

"We are appealing to the president of the republic to do what he can to stop such behaviour."

Libel suit

Even though minister Mwenze Kongolo himself has not been accused of committing any wrongdoing, his office has issued a press release refuting the testimony of Raymond Kabala.

"The untruthful allegations of OCDH are more or less just the fruit of a perverse imagination," the press release said.

Mwenze Kongolo is one of the government's most influential ministers, and one of the very few who also served under Laurent Kabila.

His office added that as "a good citizen who respects the law, the minister has filed a complaint of libel" against the human rights organisation.

Kinshasa's media watchdog, Journaliste en Danger or JED, has also complained about the arrest and alleged torture of Raymond Kabala.

Its secretary general, Tshizes Tshivuade, told me that the repression and intimidation of Congo's independent press had stepped up in recent weeks.

Kinshasa resident reading a newspaper
The media says a dozen reporters have been arrested since May

"On 3 May we celebrated the first World Press Freedom Day in four years with no Congolese journalists in prison," Mr Tshivuade said.

But he added that since then a dozen reporters had been picked up.

President Joseph Kabila and his minister for human rights Ntumba Luaba have both expressed their desire to stop these abuses.

But human rights lawyer Sebastian Kayembe thinks words are not being matched with actions.

"The fact is there is a big difference between what those people are saying officially and the reality of the situation on the ground.

"We are asking the authorities to do what they can sincerely to change the situation."

See also:

02 Apr 02 | Africa
30 Jul 02 | Africa
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