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Newspaper editor's assistant also detained

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders and Journaliste en Danger (JED), its partner organisation in Democratic Republic of Congo, wrote on 10 April 2008, to Congolese interior minister Denis Kalume Numbi asking him to intervene in the case of newspaper editor Nsimba Embete Ponte and his assistant, Davin Ntondo Nzovuangu, who are being held incommunicado.

The editor of "L'Interprète", a small-circulation fortnightly, Ponte was arrested at the "Pascal" bus stop in Masina, a municipality to the east of Kinshasa, at 7:30 a.m. (local time) on 7 March, the letter said. After several days without news of him, his family and lawyers finally learned that he was being held in a building used by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) on the bank of the Congo River, near the prime minister's office.

Their repeated attempts to visit him and to find out why he is being held have been unsuccessful; Ponte has not been able to see a lawyer or a doctor, in violation of articles 18 and 19 of the constitution which guarantee the rights of detainees in police custody.

Nzovuangu, who works closely with Ponte, was arrested on 29 March and has been held incommunicado ever since.

The United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) also tried in vain to obtain information about Ponte and Nzovuangu.

However, "during a meeting with members of the National Union of Congo Press (UNPC), communications and media minister Emile Bongeli said Ponte was being held for criticising the President and he undertook to obtain his release so that he could be sanctioned by his fellow journalists," the letter said.

"In view of this lack of transparency, (. . . ) this disturbing situation must be resolved quickly according to the rule of law, which the interior ministry is there to protect," the letter continued. "Our two organisations urge you to obtain precise information from your department about the situation of Ponte and Nzovuangu and to ensure that their rights are respected."

"It seems essential that they should be taken before a judge at once if properly documented legal proceedings are to be initiated against them. Otherwise they should be released," the letter concluded.

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