Open Letter to President Tshisekedi: Nullify death sentence of Congolese whistleblowers

March 25, 2021
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President Tshisekedi
Democratic Republic of Congo

                                                                                                                          Thursday 25 March, 2021
WIN and UNIS and 51 supporters from around the world unequivocally condemn the abhorrent judgement issued by the Gombe Tribunal (Kinshasa) against two former auditors of the Afriland First Bank sentencing them to death for blowing the whistle.

We write to President Tshisekedi to urgently demand the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) take immediate steps to nullify the flawed legal process that led to this outrageous court judgment, move to publicly commend the two whistleblowers for their actions and take clear steps to protect them and their families from any further retaliation. This includes investigating those who have threatened them.
We also demand that President Tshisekedi and his Government implement the legal and institutional framework that is needed to protect Congolese whistleblowers, citizens who stand up for what is right in the public interest of their country, their communities and their workplaces. 
Anna Myers, Executive Director of WIN states, “The tactics that have been used to try to silence those who are holding the powerful to account in the Democratic Republic of Congo are reminiscent of many other whistleblower cases around the world but in this instance the methods are ferocious and shameful.”
The hijacking of a judicial process that led to a court passing a death sentence against two auditors who were doing their job reveals, as PPLAAF has pointed out, the extreme discomfort the allegations have caused to those who have been exposed or fear exposure. The legal action that resulted in this outrageous judgement seems to be only part of a concerted, and ultimately flawed, campaign to silence the two brave whistleblowers, Mr Navy Malela and Mr Gradi Koko, and to scare anyone else who dares to fulfil their civic and professional duties and challenge the toxic status quo. 
Not only have two whistleblowers and their families been threatened and forced to leave their country for their own safety, a smear campaign was launched on social media against the two independent civil society organisations, The Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) and Global Witness, that have supported the whistleblowers and investigated their concerns.  This is all part of what seems a panicked attempt to distract from the substance of the allegations and concerns that have been raised.
In further attempts to suppress the information and silence those supporting the whistleblowers, criminal complaints and civil defamation suits have been threatened or filed against PPLAAF, Global Witness and journalists in France and Israel. Such lawsuits, however weak or groundless, follow the increasingly well-known pattern by those with far greater resources to exhaust and bankrupt anyone who dares to hold the powerful to account. Better known as SLAPP suits - Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – there are strong calls from Europe and around the world to guard against such abusive use of the law to shut down vital public interest oversight and public access to information.
Public interest watchdogs, like PPLAAF and Global Witness, are non-profit organisations like all of the organisations signing this letter of support.  They work to protect the vulnerable and promote integrity and democratic accountability.  In this case, they protected Mr. Gradi Koko and Mr. Navy Malela - the two auditors at Afriland Bank who, when faced with the magnitude of what they were witnessing at work, first acted to raise their concerns within their institutions. It was only after facing threats and realising that no effective action was going to be taken to investigate and stop the suspected wrongdoing, that the two men determined the only other responsible action to take to stop the corruption was to disclose the incriminating materials outside the bank to trusted NGOs and journalists.
This is not the first reprisals suffered by whistleblowers in DRC.  Over the past few years, Congolese citizens who bravely stood up to report suspected wrongdoing or corruption have  suffered harsh consequences.  For example, Jean Jacques Lumumba and Guylain Luwere, also bankers, were threatened with a gun and forced into exile. The whistleblower, Claude Mianzuila, spent months in prison after raising concerns of embezzlement in a mining company.
“Navy Malela and Gradi Koko acted responsibly and bravely on behalf of the Congolese nation and its people”, said Jean-Jacques Lumumba, Congolese whistleblower and banker. “We cannot afford to stay silent and we must stand by together as Africans across the continent to demand an end to the corruption that harms our nations and our peoples.”
The two auditors acted in line with international best practices on whistleblower protection and freedom of expression – in particular, the public’s right to know.  Were they to have blown the whistle in Europe under similar circumstances, they would be protected under the newly adopted EU Directive on the protection of reporting persons.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the African Union Convention Against Corruption which contain commitments to encouraging and protecting those who speak up about corruption.  Two Congolese whistleblowers have acted in the public interest and have disclosed information about serious corruption concerns that are afflicting the present and future well-being of the country and have done so at great personal and professional cost to themselves and their families.
If President Tshisekedi is serious about protecting whistleblowers, now is the time to act! 
Signed by:

Jimmy Kande, Coordinateur,                                                 Anna Myers, Executive Director,
UNIS, pan-African anti-corruption network                  Whistleblowing International Network
Supported by: 
  1. African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Nigeria
  2. African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
  3. African Resources Watch : Afrewatch
  4. Blueprint for Free Speech
  5. Cadre des concertations de la Société Civile de l’Ituri sur les Ressources naturelles (CDC/RN)
  6. Campax (Switzerland)
  7. Centre for Free Expression (Canada)
  8. Civic Media Lab (Nigeria)
  9. European Public Service Unions – EPSU
  10. Filimbi (DRC)
  11. Finance Uncovered (United Kingdom)
  12. FIND (United Kingdom)
  13. Free Press Unlimited (the Netherlands)
  14. Global Financial & Business Integrity (United Kingdom)
  15. Government Accountability Project (United States of America)
  16. Ifeoma Ozoma, Founder and Principal, Earthseed (United States of America)
  17. Institute for Public Policy Research (Namibia)
  18. Janina Mackiewicz, Head of EU Affairs, Eurocadres (Belgium)
  19. Lutte pour le Changement (Lucha) (DRC)
  20. Maison des Lanceurs d’Alerte (France)
  21. Martin Woods, Banking Compliance Expert, Whistleblower
  22. OBC Transeuropa (Italy)
  23. Observatoire Citoyen des Droits et de lutte contre la Corruption (OCIDC) (DRC
  24. Observatoire d’Etudes et d’Appui à la Responsabilité Sociale et Environnementale (OEARSE)
  25. Observatoire de la Dépense Publique (ODEP) (DRC)
  26. OPEN DRC
  27. Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
  28. Oživení (Czech Republic)
  29. Pištaljka (Serbia)
  30. Professor David Kaye, UC Irvine School of Law, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression (2014-2020)
  31. Professor David Lewis, Middlesex University (United Kingdom)
  32. Professor Wim Vandekerckhove, University of Greenwich (United Kingdom)
  33. Protect (United Kingdom)
  34. Public Service International (PSI)
  35. RAW Compliance
  36. Réseau d’Éducation Civique au Congo (RECIC) (DRC)
  37. Sciences Citoyennes (France)
  38. Sherpa (France)
  39. SpeakOut SpeakUp Ltd (United Kingdom)
  40. Spotlight on Corruption (United Kingdom)
  41. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation (Malta)
  42. The Signals Network (USA/France)
  43.  Toby Cadman, Co-Founder and Head of Chambers, Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers (United Kingdom)
  44. Transparency International
  45. Transparency International Estonia
  46. Transparency International Ireland
  47. Transparency International Italy
  48. Transparency International Slovakia
  49. WBN - Whistleblower Netzwerk (Germany)
  50. WhistleblowersUK
  51. Xnet (Spain)
Please find French translation here

See Vice World News article by Emma Ogao (24 March 2021) on the DRC Whistleblowers and the alleged links between their concerns and the business activities of Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler. 

See also WIN supporting Global Witness and PPLAAF in their fight to oppose unfair SLAAP procedures against them.