International PEN protests the months-long illegal pretrial detention of L’interprète editor Nsimba Embete Ponte and his assistant Davin Ntondo Nzovuangu. The two men were finally charged officially on June 6, after being held incommunicado for 90 and 68 days, respectively. PEN is concerned that the journalists continue to be detained and that their trial is being delayed, and believes that they are being detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the national constitution and international human-rights law. PEN is also concerned by reports that Ponte is in poor health and calls on the Congolese authorities to ensure that Ponte and Ntondo receive access to bail provision, a prompt and fair trial, and proper medical treatment.

Background Information

Ponte was arrested by plainclothes policemen on March 7, 2008, and detained incommunicado at a National Intelligence Agency (ANR) building near the prime minister's office in Kinshasa. He had reportedly been receiving threats since publishing a series of articles on President Kabila's health in February. Ntondo was arrested by police at his home on March 29. Both men were denied access to legal or medical assistance or family visits during their detention by the ANR.

On June 6, 2008, Ponte and Ntondo were reportedly transferred from the ANR to the court of Matete, also in Kinshasa. Both men were charged with "publishing false news, threatening state security, and insulting the president" on the basis of a November 30, 2006, article critical of President Kabila's leadership and a series of February 2008 articles on the president's health. The journalists had been held incommunicado for 90 and 68 days, respectively, during which time they were denied visits by lawyers, doctors, and their families. On June 7, Ponte and Ntondo were transferred to a prison in Kinshasa (formerly known as Makala). A hearing scheduled for June 13 did not take place as the judge failed to turn up.
 
Ponte, 57, is reportedly in poor health. He says he has suffered from headaches and fainting while in detention and appeared weak during a June 7 visit by local free press organization Journalist en Danger. On June 9, he was reportedly diagnosed with symptoms of meningitis and stomach ulcers and referred to specialized medical care. As of June 25, he was said to be held in a cell with some 20 other inmates.
 
At the end of June, a state prosecutor reportedly declared the journalists' pretrial detention illegal, as detainees can only be kept in a holding cell for 48 hours under the DRC Constitution. However, this guarantee is systematically violated, according to a Human Rights Assessment report by the United Nations peacekeeping mission in DRC.

Write A Letter

  • protesting the months-long pretrial detention of Ponte and Ntondo, who were held incommunicado for 90 and 68 days, respectively, and who continue to be detained in prison, in apparent violation of their right to express their opinions freely in print as guaranteed by Articles 22-24 of the DRC Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all of which include the DRC as a signatory;
  • calling for Ponte and Ntondo to be freed pending trial, or to be released without conditions;
  • expressing concern that Ponte has been diagnosed in prison with medical conditions that require specialized medical care;
  • urging the authorities to ensure that while they remain in prison both journalists, particularly Ponte, are given full access to medical attention.

Send Your Letter To

Minister of Justice and Human Rights
Mutombo Bakafwa Nsenda
Minister of Justice and Human Rights
Salutation: Dear Minister
 
Prison Director
M. Kitungwa Killy Dido, Director
Centre Pénitentiaire et de Rééducation de Kinshasa
Salutation: Dear Sir
 
Via

The Democratic Republic of the Congo Permanent Mission to the United Nations
886 United Nations Plaza, Suite 511
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 319-8232
E-mail: acpresse@gmail.com
 
Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after July 28, 2008: ftw [at] pen.org