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Journalist sentenced in absentia to six months' prison and heavy fine for defaming oil company

(JED/IFEX) - Pold Kalombo, a reporter with the Kinshasa-based weekly "Le Soft International", was sentenced in absentia by a Kinshasa/Ngaliema court on 18 May 2007 to six months' prison without bail and a fine of 20,000 Congolese francs (approx. US$40). Kalombo and his paper were also ordered to pay damages in the amount of US$150,000.

Kalombo was found guilty of defaming SOCIR (Société congolaise des industries de raffinage), a petroleum refinery based in Bas Congo province, after an article he wrote criticizing the 2002 partnership struck between the SOCIR and X-OIL appeared in the 3 April issue of "Le Soft International". According to the journalist, the article was based on excerpts from, among other sources, a 2005 book on the Congolese petroleum industry authoured by SOCIR's head of economic research, in which the SOCIR-X-OIL deal was sharply criticized.

It was only on 5 July however, that Kalombo received news of the legal action, when the security guard at "Le Soft International" presented him with the indictment and court ruling. The journalist had not previously received any notification of a court action against him. To date, Kalombo remains free but his lawyers have opposed the ruling as a violation of the journalist's right to an open and fair trial.

JED has condemned this latest abuse of judicial process and calls on the court to re-open the proceedings and conduct the trial with respect to existing international norms, allowing the journalist to mount a defense and hire a lawyer of his choice to represent him.

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