Kananga – A Congolese journalist testified before a military tribunal on Thursday in a trial over the March 2017 murder of two UN experts, his lawyer said.
Sosthene Kambidi has been in custody since his arrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo capital Kinshasa on September 20.
He was transferred five days later to Kananga, capital of Kasai Central Province, where Thursday’s hearing was held.
Kambidi, who has worked as a freelancer for AFP and Radio France Internationale (RFI) and at the Congolese online news site Actualite.cd in Kananga, appeared for the first time Thursday.
Kananga is the nearest city to Bunkonde village, the scene of the murders on March 12, 2017.
“The tribunal president finally clarified Sosthene Kambidi’s status, telling us he is not accused and is not a defendant,” lawyer Dominique Kambale said.
“Questioning focused on the details of the double murder, which the journalist learned of only a few hours later, and on the possession of the video of the killings,” the lawyer said.
Kambidi had been accused of “terrorism, criminal association and insurrection”, for which he would have faced the death penalty.
The video has become the focal point for an investigation into the kidnapping and murders of American Michael Sharp and Swedish-Chilean Zaida Catalan, who had been hired by the UN to investigate violence in the Kasai region.
Around 30 people have been accused of taking part in the murder, but a trial that began in June 2017 had stalled.
“So far the military tribunal has not told us why Sosthene Kambidi cannot go home,” Kambale said.
Kambidi told the tribunal that a UN police officer told him and an RFI journalist that the experts had been killed, according to an AFP journalist who attended the hearing.
Kambidi said he viewed the video for the first time on April 16, 2017, on the smartphone of a lawyer who attends the same church as his. He said the lawyer gave him the video the following day.
A videographer, Israel Ntumba, testified to having seen the video before April 16 while he was with Kambidi and the lawyer, when the pair were viewing it.
The tribunal adjourned the hearing to next Tuesday with a view to clearing up the discrepancy.
According to the official version of events, the two UN experts were killed by members of the Kamuina Nsapu rebel group, which was fighting government forces.
The conflict with Kamuina Nsapu left an estimated 3,400 people dead and tens of thousands displaced between September 2016 and mid-2017 in the Kasai region.
Picture: Getty Images