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Journalist in Danger (Journaliste en danger, JED) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) accused Congolese authorities of conducting a farcical investigation and trial that led to four people being hastily sentenced to death for killing a UN journalist.

A military court in Democratic Republic of Congo convicted two demobilised soldiers on 28 August after they confessed to gunning down UN radio reporter Serge Maheshe on 13 June in the eastern city of Bukavu.

Serge Muhima and Alain Mulimbi, two of Maheshe's close friends who were with him at the time of his murder, were found guilty of organising the contract killing. Six others were acquitted.

The trial was "riddled with absurdities," says RSF. "We never imagined that the Bukavu military tribunal would take its incoherence and denial of justice this far."

The trial opened a day after Maheshe's killing, sparking criticism from human rights campaigners that it was being rushed through.

According to JED and RSF, the verdicts against Muhima and Mulimbi were largely based on the testimony of the two former soldiers, who said they acted at the request of Maheshe's two friends in exchange for a promise of US$15,000 each and a ticket to South Africa. But the soldiers' statements were inconsistent, and no motive was ever established for those who ordered the murder, nor was any material evidence produced at the trial, say JED, RSF and the UN mission in the Congo. The court itself even underlined that doubts remained.

Maheshe was news editor for Bukavu's Radio Okapi, a UN-backed station set up to support the peace process following Congo's 1998-2003 war. Shortly before his murder, he alerted UN officials that members of the Republican Guard (the former Presidential Guard) had threatened to kill him. RSF says the authorities have produced no evidence that these two soldiers have been questioned.

When Maheshe, Muhima and Mulimbi were leaving a friend's home in Bukavu on 13 June in Maheshe's car that bore the UN logo, two men in uniform asked Maheshe his name and shot him in the legs and chest.

Lawyers for Muhima and Mulimbi say they are planning to appeal the decision. JED and RSF are calling for the Maheshe case to be reopened and heard before an independent tribunal.

Threats and intimidation against journalists are common in DRC, which last year held its first free elections in more than four decades. At least four journalists have been killed since 2005 in the country.

Patrick Kikuku, a freelance photojournalist and reporter, was slain this month in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, also by armed men in uniform.

In a separate development, three suspects in the murder of journalist Louis Bapuwa Mwamba were sentenced to death on 24 August. Bapuwa Mwamba was a correspondent for several Kinshasa newspapers. He was killed during a botched robbery attempt in July 2006 by three armed men who broke into his home.

Visit these links:
- JED (French):
- JED (English):
- JED on Bapuwa Mwamba case:
- RSF:
- UN Mission in DRC (MONUC):
- Reuters:
(4 September 2007)

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