Death threats mar DRC murder appeal hearing

Defence lawyers and observers have received death threats during the appeal hearing of four men sentenced to death over a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) journalist’s murder, human rights groups said on Wednesday.

Serge Maheshe (31), a reporter with the United Nations-backed Radio Okapi, was murdered in June last year in the regional capital of Sud-Kivu, Bukavu, and four men, including two of Maheshe’s friends, have been sentenced to death.

According to a joint statement from four rights groups, both national and international observers at the appeal as well as defence lawyers had received anonymous death threats over the telephone.

The International Federation of Journalists, Action by Christians against Torture, Protection International and the International Commission of Jurists highlighted “the absolute right of observers to attend a trial under international rights as well as the rights to publicly criticise ongoing trials”.

The four NGOs demanded that DRC authorities assure the safety of those defence lawyers taking part in the case.

“The presence of international observers can only contribute to helping Congolese justice in correcting the failures recorded” in the original trial, “to finally give justice to the family of Serge Maheshe”, the statement said.

On August 28, a military tribunal sentenced to death Freddy Bisimwa and Masasile Rwezangabo for the crime. On the basis of their confessions, it also handed out death sentences to two friends of the victim, Serge Mohima and Alain Mulumbi Shamavu, accused of being the masterminds behind the plot.

But a month later, in September, the two self-confessed killers retracted their accusation, saying it was extracted under pressure by the military magistrates.

In March, the group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) criticised the refusal of the military judges to take into account the retraction, or to explore other avenues.

A UN report last month highlighted serious rights violations during the original trial, saying it “showed that not only was there no real criminal investigation, but that neither the prosecutor nor the TMG [military court] really sought to establish the truth and to render justice to the victim and his family and friends”.

The report criticised the prosecution for failing to follow other leads, in particular initial theories relating Maheshe’s murder either to a theft by two soldiers or an altercation he had with officers of the presidential guard.—Sapa-AFP


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