The sentence handed down to Raymond Malonga shows the level of respect for law and press freedom in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Editor of a satiric magazine, Sel-Piment, Malonga was sentenced to six months in prison and a 30 million franc (45,000 euros) fine. The alleged defamation centres on Georgette Okemba. Accused of embezzlement in an article that Malonga published, she is the wife of Jean-Dominique Okemba, known as “JDO”,” head of the country’s National Security Council and a nephew of Pesident Denis Sassou Nguesso. Plainclothes intelligence officials arrested the journalist on his hospital bed on 2 February, after he was charged with a press offence.
“After months of fighting for this journalist to be freed, so that he can answer to the charges from outside of prison, the court decided, on a day when the whole world is celebrating a day dedicated to journalists and the news media, to sentence him to a prison term, disregarding laws that provide a framework for practicing journalism,” said Arnaud Froger, head of the RSF Africa Desk. “This sentence is completely unfair. It is an affront to all Congolese journalists. We call for respect for the rule of law, which requires this journalist to be freed.”
Malonga’s lawyer, contacted by RSF, said he is concerned by the sentence. He said his client would appeal.
Congolese press law does not authorize gaol or prison for defamation, unless it concerns nationality, ethnicity, race, or religious affiliation. None of these is relevant to the Malonga case.
Congo is ranked 118th out of 180 countries in RSF’s newly published World Press Freedom Index.