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New York - Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) should drop all charges against editor-in-chief of the weekly Le Fédéral Jeef Mwingamb and release him immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Saturday.

"Mwingamb is facing a defamation charge under article 74 of the Congolese penal code, his lawyer David Ilunga Sheria told CPJ. The national security Service (ANR) summoned him on August 30 to its office in Lubumbashi and detained him, according to the Congolese press freedom advocacy organisation Journalistes en Danger."

The charge was in relation to a complaint that a regional government minister Viviane Kapufi Mwansa made to the federal security service about the way Mwingamb portrayed her in an article in Le Fédéral on August 19, according to news reports. The CPJ was unable to reach Kapufi for comment, CPJ Africa program co-ordinator Angela Quintal said. 

Mwingamb was due to appear in court on Friday, but police told his lawyer that the hearing was cancelled because Mwingamb experienced health problems. 

The CPJ was unable to determine if Mwingamb was still being held in the regional prosecutor general's office or if he had been taken to a hospital for medical treatment.

"Jeef Mwingamb should never have been arrested and detained. Authorities must release him immediately and ensure he has access to adequate medical attention. It is outrageous to target members of the press with criminal defamation simply for doing their job," Quintal said.

The national security service in Lubumbashi did not respond to repeated calls from the CPJ. Marianne Yav, regional secretary of the Union National de la Presse du Congo in Lubumbashi, told the CPJ that she deplored the use of the state security service to arrest journalists.

Congolese authorities had been cracking down on critical reporters in recent weeks. A court on August 29 sentenced Jean Pierre Tshibitshabu to eight months in prison for incitement, Ilunga told the CPJ. 

Tshibitshabu, a reporter for independent broadcaster Radio Television KADEKAS, was arrested during nationwide pro-democracy protests on July 31. At least 18 other journalists were briefly detained or harassed during the demonstrations, Quintal said.