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Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 18:35 UK

Congo death sentences condemned

Serge Maheshe
The motive for Serge Maheshe's murder remains unclear

The sentencing to death of three people for the murder of a journalist in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been widely condemned.

Serge Maheshe, a respected 31-year-old reporter with UN-backed Radio Okapi, was shot dead in Bukavu in June 2007.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, denounced irregularities in the trial.

Meanwhile, three members of the Bundu dia Kongo sect have also been condemned to death for murder and rebellion.

Fifteen other members of the group were given prison sentences ranging from two months to 20 years.

Defence lawyers say they will appeal.

The group, based in the western province of Bas-Congo, has been fighting a bloody campaign for many years.

It says it wants to re-establish a pre-colonial Kongo kingdom in parts of the DR Congo, the Republic of Congo, Angola and Gabon.

US-based Human Rights Watch has criticised the trial saying it had reports that confessions were obtained by torture.

'Threats'

Ms Arbour said the military court which tried those accused of killing Mr Maheshe had refused to explore other credible leads or ask for ballistic expertise.

She criticised the use of military tribunals which continued to judge civilians in violation of international norms and the Congolese constitution.

Reporters Without Borders, based in Paris, and its Congolese partner Journalists in Danger also criticised the trial.

"There were no ballistic tests or autopsy. The defence lawyers and independent observers received anonymous threats. And certain hypotheses were deliberately ignored," the groups said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern that the motives behind the murder remain unclear.

Serge Maheshe was the fourth journalist to be killed in DR Congo since 2005.

Correspondents say journalists in DR Congo often face threats and intimidation.

Radio Okapi is seen as one of the few sources of reliable news in the country, they say.


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