December 19, 2008

Mutombo Bakafwa Nsenda
Minister of Justice and Human Rights

M. Kitungwa Killy Dido
Director, Centre Pénitentiaire et de Rééducation de Kinshasa (CPRK)

c/o The Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the UN
886 United Nations Plaza, Suite 511
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 319-8232

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to protest the ten- and nine-month prison sentences handed down to L’interprète editor Nsimba Embete Ponte and his assistant Davin Ntondo Nzovuangu, respectively.

According to our information, on November 27, 2008, N’Djili court in Kinshasa found Mr. Embete Ponte and Mr. Ntondo Nzovuangu guilty of “insulting the head of state” for a series of articles published in February 2008 on President Joseph Kabila’s health, and sentenced them to ten and nine months in prison, respectively. The ruling reportedly came after more than a month of deliberation, in violation of Congolese law, which states that courts must hand down judgments within eight days, and the court’s decision was only made public a week later. There are fears that the sentencing of the two journalists is an attempt to cover up a blunder by the National Intelligence Agency and to justify their lengthy detention.

After more than a month of receiving threats, Embete Ponte was arrested by plainclothes policemen on March 7, 2008, and detained at a National Intelligence Agency (ANR) building in Kinshasa. His assistant Ntondo Nzovuangu was arrested by police at his home on March 29. The two journalists had been held incommunicado for 90 and 68 days respectively, during which time they were denied visits by lawyers, their families, and doctors, although Embete Ponte has allegedly suffered health problems. On June 6 both men were officially charged with “publishing false news, threatening state security and insulting the president.” They were refused bail and were transferred the next day to the Centre pénitentiaire et de rééducation de Kinshasa (formerly known as Makala). The trial began on August 15.

PEN American Center believes the detention and conviction of Nsimba Embete Ponte and Davin Ntondo Nzovuangu to be in violation of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Articles 22-24 of the DRC Constitution, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Democratic Republic of Congo is a signatory. We therefore call for their immediate and unconditional release.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee       

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Ambassador Faida Mitifu
Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo to the United States
1800 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 234-2609

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