Nine reporters of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) state broadcaster, Radio-television nationale congolaise (RNTC), have been sentenced to one year in prison, without parole, for defamation, a local journalist organisation reported on Wednesday.
In a statement, Journaliste en danger (JED) reported that a Kinshasa/Gombe court sentenced the reporters on Monday for defamation and "slanderous denunciations" against a former communications and press minister, Kikaya bin Karubi.
The court also ordered the reporters, who were not in court during the sentencing, to pay Kikaya US $2,500 each in damages and interest.
JED reported that the judgement followed a suit filed by Kikaya in March 2003, accusing the reporters of having defamed him in a letter they wrote to DRC President Joseph Kabila after a stormy meeting of RTNC employees in February that year.
According to JED, the reporters and other RTNC employees called for Kikaya's resignation during a general meeting in February 2003, and the reinstatement of suspended RTNC Director Luboya Mvidie. A cameraman was suspended soon after the meeting for filming and airing images of angry RTNC employees at the meeting.
JED reported that the reporters wrote to Kabila after the meeting, denouncing embezzlement by Kikaya's ministry of "two transmitters from an equipment shipment purchased by the [state and] the embezzlement of funds that the RTNC had collected in rent". The letter was copied to all senior government authorities in the country.
Kikaya's lawyer filed a suit on 20 March 2003, accusing the reporters of defamation, JED reported. The case went on until judges called a strike in October 2003, causing its suspension. However, the judgement was delivered on 5 January, the day the judges suspended their strike.
"JED notes that the Kinshasa/Gombe court delivered its verdict in the case involving former minister Kikaya and the nine RTNC employees on 5 January. The defendants were informed of the court's decision via newspaper reports," JED said.
It said that two of the sentenced reporters had said that they had not received official notification of the court's decision.
"Much like yourselves, we learned of our sentence of 12 months in prison with no parole and a $2,500 fine in this morning's papers," JED quoted Richard Kalala Tshitenge, one of the convicted reporters.
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