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Observers of Serge Maheshe murder case receive death threats

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is very worried about death threats that were sent anonymously by SMS message on 17 and 19 April 2008 to four independent observers who are monitoring the appeal hearings of four people convicted of the June 2007 murder of journalist Serge Maheshe in the eastern city Bukavu. The appeals are being heard by a Bukavu military court.

"The harassment of these four observers, whose work is essential for the truth to emerge, is completely unacceptable and very disturbing," the press freedom organisation said. "There are people who from the very outset have done everything possible to prevent justice being done in this case and their actions are going from bad to worse. The government needs to finally take this seriously. It has the means of identifying and punishing those responsible for these threats. It must be done without delay."

The four observers who received threats are Dieudonné Sango, vice-president of the Congo Provincial Network of Human Rights Organisations (Reprodhoc), Jean-Paul Ngongo of the NGO "Voice of Those Without Voice and Without Freedom," lawyer Jean Bedel of the Congolese Institute for Justice and Peace (ICJP) and Sophie Roudil, Bukavu representative of the NGO International Protection.

All four received the same SMS message shortly after 8 p.m. (local time) on 17 April from the mobile number +243 85 32 10 208. It said: "Don't worry. He who laughs last laughs longest. Those who have done so much to discredit this trial will pay for its outcome with their own blood. We are in the Congo. Be seeing you."

The message's four recipients are observing the appeal hearings that have been conducted in a very questionable manner since 6 February. They are part of an independent collective of 30 local organisations which is backed by International Protection and which issues a note after each hearing detailing the anomalies and irregularities that have constantly been observed.

The notes issued by the observers have been widely reported in the Congolese news media. During the 19 and 26 March hearings, they elicited angry comments from the presiding judge about "pointless" pressure on the court. The chief prosecutor, Capt. Dieudonné Kabembe, has warned the observers that they risk being prosecuted for "attacking the judiciary."

After the four observers filed a complaint about the threatening SMS message, three of them - Sango, Ngongo and Bedel - received another one on 19 April. It said: "Complaint? A counter-attack? Hum!!! OK. The strongest will win. It is just a question of time. The die has been cast. Good luck." Roudil meanwhile got a message saying: "With all respect, you are RESPONSIBLE for what will HAPPEN."

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