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Publication director acquitted of defaming provincial governor

(JED/IFEX) - JED welcomes the 28 August 2008 ruling by the Kinshasa/Gombe Peace Court acquitting Achille Kadima Mulamba, publication director of the Kinshasa-based weekly "Africa News", who has been facing legal action since 2 July for defamation of the governor of Equateur province, José Makila, a member of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) led by Senator Jean-Pierre Bemba.

According to Congolese law, the governor of Equateur province has 10 days and the public prosecutor three months to appeal.

JED welcomes the verdict, which is a victory for free expression and which will set a precedent in a country where the infractions of "defamation" and "harmful accusations" have been defined in a way that shelters from criticism those, usually the authorities, who file complaints. In effect, Congolese legislation with regard to defamation does not bind the judge to the truth or falsity of the accusations. All that counts, according to Congolese law, is the honour, respect and exposure to the contempt of the public claimed by the plaintiff.

Achille Kadima Mulamba, who has remained free since the beginning of the trial, was summoned to appear before the Kinshasa/Gombe Peace Court to face charges of defamation, together with his newspaper, following a complaint by the governor of Equateur province. The governor had asked the court to sentence the journalist to "a heavy prison term with immediate arrest and payment of US$50,000 in damages together with his newspaper." The plaintiff also demanded that the court "order the closure of 'Africa News'."

In its 15 June edition, "Africa News" published an article stating that following the arrest of MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba at the request of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Governor José Makila (described by the newspaper as Bemba's nephew) stepped up efforts to take control of the party. To that end, according to the newspaper, he allegedly brought together the members of parliament from Equateur province in a Kinshasa restaurant in order to carry out his "putsch".

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