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Court hands down 10 and nine-month sentences to editor, assistant, after more than nine months in detention

(JED/IFEX) - On 27 November 2008, Kinshasa's N'Djili court handed down 10 and nine-month sentences, respectively, to Nsimba Embete Ponte, editor of the Kinshasa-based, independent bi-weekly l'"Interprète", and his assistant, Davin Tondo Nzovuanga. The court's decision was only made public a week later. The two men were arrested by state security agents in March and held in secret detention for three months at a national intelligence agency detention centre along the Congo River, before being transferred to a Kinshasa prison in early June. Taking into account the time spent in detention already, Tondo will be released later this month and Nsimba Embete in January 2009.

The two journalists were initially charged with "spreading false news," "threatening state security," and "insulting the head of state" in connection with a series of articles questioning the health of President Joseph Kabila. They were found guilty of "insulting the head of state." The ruling came after more than a month of deliberations by the court, a violation of Congolese law which imposes an eight-day limit for a judgment to be handed down.

JED believes the long-delayed sentencing of the two men is simply the court's attempt to cover up a blunder by the national intelligence agency and justify the lengthy detention of the two journalists.

Updates the Ponte and Tondo cases:

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