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Journalist sentenced in absentia to one year in prison

(JED/IFEX) – Kinshasa, 31 March 2010 – JED has condemned the unlawful detention and heavy damages award handed down to an independent print journalist at Kisangani Central Prison in Orientale province, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. JED demands his immediate release and reminds the county court judge of every defendant's right to a fair and lawful trial.

According to information received by JED, on 26 March 2010, Lucien Pungu, a reporter with Radio-Télévision Amani (RTA), a Kisangani-based denominational station, was sentenced in absentia to one year in prison, effective immediately, and more than US$12,000 in fines and damages by a county court. The conviction stems from a libel complaint brought by Gaspard Paseko, an officer with the city's notary services.

The arrest order follows the August 2009 publication by "Le Thermomètre" magazine of a profile piece entitled, "A day in the life of a Kisangani civil servant", taken from the website Congo Blog but erroneously attributed to Pungu.

Pungu was arrested at his home on 30 March by Congolese national police officers in the presence of Paseko's lawyer. He was handcuffed and taken to Kisangani Central Prison.

"Le Thermomètre" publisher Jean Claude Litete, who is also facing charges in the case, told JED that Pungu was not the author of the article. "I'm the one who mistakenly signed his name to the piece instead of the real author's (Congo Blog) because we sometimes do publish Pungu's articles. I even told this to the court."

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