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Call for release of ailing Brazzaville newpaper editor Ghys Fortuné Bemba, held for 13 months

People gather around a newspaper vendor in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, 21 March 2016
People gather around a newspaper vendor in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, 21 March 2016

EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 1 March 2018.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is very worried about newspaper editor Ghys Fortuné Bemba, whose health has worsened steadily during the past 13 months of arbitrary detention in Brazzaville, in the Republic of Congo. RSF calls for his immediate release and holds the authorities responsible for his state of health.

According to the information obtained by RSF, Bemba's health had deteriorated in his cell in Brazzaville's main prison to the point that he was taken in a critical condition to an intensive care unit in Brazzaville's Cogemo clinic on 22 January 2018. Although he did not really recover, he was forcibly returned to prison on 16 February in the absence of his lawyer and doctor.

The editor of the independent weekly Talassa, Bemba has been held arbitrarily since his arrest on 11 January 2017 for publishing a statement by Frédéric Bintsamou, a former rebel leader accused of terrorist acts in the southeastern department of Pool since April 2016. Bemba is supposedly charged with "violating internal state security in complicity with a former rebel chief" but has yet to appear in court.

"Prolonging Ghys Fortuné Bemba's arbitrary detention while his health is critical is a cruel, shocking and illegal punishment," RSF said. "We fear for his life. Bemba must be returned to a hospital intensive care unit without delay. Continuing to deny him medical care is tantamount to a death sentence. We hold the Congolese authorities responsible for his fate."

Several Congolese human rights organizations had already identified the serious ailments Bemba has developed in prison in the statement they issued in early November calling for his release.

RSF and the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote a joint letter to President Denis Sassou Nguesso on 18 September 2017 calling for his immediate release. Bemba was previously arrested in October 2015 in connection with an article criticizing the president. His newspaper, Talassa, has been banned since 12 January 2017.

Also known as Congo-Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo is ranked 115th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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