- Fortune Bemba, editor of the Brazzaville-based weekly 'Thalassa', has been charged with defamation, attack on the honour of the Head of State and propagation of false news. In an article in 'Thalassa', the President of Congo Brazzaville was accused of poisoning a high ranking army officer.
Mr Bemba was arrested and imprisoned in Brazzaville on Thursday last week, following the "defamation" of the Congolese President. The editor was however released on bail the day after, Friday. On the same day, public prosecutor Dinard Moubanga Mokonji officially put charges against Mr Bemba, who is set to stand trial on 17 May.
During his short imprisonment, he was questioned on the subject of an article published in the last installment of the newspaper, entitled, "Were General Casimir Bouissa Matoko and Lekoudzou poisoned by Denis Sassou Nguesso," according to the Kinshasa-based press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED).
In this article, the newspaper accused Congolese President Nguesso of poisoning General Bouissa, who died a week ago, officially due to a heart attack.
For the last five years, the press in Congo Brazzaville has enjoyed a very liberal press legislation and close to no serious attacks on press freedom. While democratic structures remain very weak in the Central African country, authorities have mostly left the press develop into a critical institution.
The positive situation is due to a liberal press law, passed by the Brazzaville parliament in 2001. The law abolished jail sentences for offences such as libel and insult. However, jail sentences are still provided for in cases of "incitement to violence, racism and unrest". According to current legislation, Mr Bemba thus only can expect a fine if found guilty of defamation.
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