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JED welcomes acquittal of murdered journalist Serge Maheshe's two friends, deplores unfair trial

(JED/IFEX) - In a verdict made public on 21 May 2008, the Military Appeals Court in Bukavu (capital of South-Kivu province, eastern DR Congo) sentenced to death Freddy Bisimwa Matabaro and Mugisho Rwenzagabo, also known as Mastakila, the two alleged assassins of journalist Serge Maheshe, and discharged his two friends and eyewitnesses of the crime, Serge Muhima and Alain Mulimbi. A third person named Patient Bisimwa Sikitu, of whom there had been no previous mention, was also sentenced to death for "criminal association". As for the Congolese state, also prosecuted, it was cleared of any responsibility.

JED takes note of the military court's decision confirming the death sentences of the alleged murderers but remains dissatisfied with the outcome of the trial since it did not establish, in an irrefutable way, what really happened on the deadly night of 13 June 2007, when journalist Maheshe was killed, who actually killed him, who ordered the murder and what was the motive. Serious doubts persist as to the weapon used in the crime and the fact that no ballistic tests or autopsy were conducted, including extracting the bullets from the body. Moreover, the allegations of bribery involving two military magistrates have never been investigated. According to several observers, there was nothing fair and equitable about this trial that was characterised by intimidation and all kinds of manoeuvres to masquerade the truth, and in which the military court refused to explore all the leads available in the case.

Although relieved at the acquittal of the journalist's two friends, JED believes Muhima and Mulimbi should never have been detained during more than 10 months. The organisation believes the verdict is the outcome of a botched trial based on a superficial investigation.

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