Two men, Joel Munganda and M Munongo, have been sentenced to death and a third, Didier Awatembine, to forced labour for life for the murder of Congolese journalist Frank Ngyke Kangundu and his wife Helene Paka, the government’s mouthpiece and official website Digitalcongo.net reports, citing sources from Le Potentiel newspaper.
The fourth man, Serge Kabungu, is still at large and the fifth, Paulin Kusungila Pindi, was found not guilty and acquitted by a military court presided over by Captain Lukombi Gaby and based in Matete, in the outskirts of the DRC capital, Kinshasa.
According to Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR), Kangundu – who worked for La Reference Plus as a senior journalist – was killed with his wife on the doorstep of their Kinshasa home on November 2, 2005, after writing an article in which it was claimed President Joseph Kabila had channelled $US30 million dollars from DRC government coffers to Tanzania, where he grew up and which he, according to insiders, would ‘love more’ than the DRC.
But, shortly after the sentencing, Journalistes en Danger (JED, Journalists in Danger) issued a statement, expressing its disappointment about what it called an ‘unfinished’ and ‘flawed’ trial, which failed to expose the whole truth about who actually ordered the murder of Kangundu and his wife.
Reliable sources claim the murder was ordered from the highest level of government, possibly by Kabila himself, who was said to have been deeply disturbed and hurt by Kangundu’s ‘offending’ article.
FAIR quoted colleagues and the slain journalist’s children as saying that they strongly doubt that these ‘assassins’ are in fact the real culprits. They also described the trial as a ‘masquerade’.
According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the DRC, like Zimbabwe and Eritrea, ranks among the world’s most dangerous countries for independent journalists.
“Freedom of the media and all forms of freedom of expression remain elusive and an empty dream in our country, despite the dawn of democracy and the end of Mobutu regime 10 years ago,” said one Congolese journalist exiled in South Africa. He agreed to speak to Bizcommunity.com only on condition of anonymity, as he feared for the safety of his family back home.
The DRC is a country the size of Western Europe, and rich in mineral resources. However, its people remain one of the world’s poorest, and they have been ruled – and continue to be ruled – with an iron-fist since the country’s independence from Belgium in 1960.
When the Mobutu regime collapsed in 1997, many were relieved to see him and his corrupt cronies gone, but hopes of reform were quickly dashed and people were quickly disenchanted when his successor, Laurent-Desire Kabila, turned out, in the opinion of many, to be worse than Mobutu.
During Mobutu’s rule, many independent journalists and free-thinking voices who dared to criticise him or his regime simply disappeared… It is claimed by sources close to the regime that critics were tortured and killed and their bodies fed to lions and other ferocious animals.
And, it is claimed, the trend continues under the so-called democratic dispensation…