The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) protests the continued imprisonment of Maka Gbossokotto, publication director of the private French language daily Le Citoyen, who faces a verdict on Monday, August 9, in a trial on criminal defamation charges. We are also concerned by recent government threats against the independent press, which appear to be an attempt to stem criticism of authorities.
Gbossokotto was arrested in Bangui on July 8, following a defamation suit brought by the former director of CAR's national power company, Jean-Serge Wafio. The suit was brought in response to a series of articles published in Le Citoyen, which accused Wafio of mismanagement and embezzlement, according to local sources and international news reports. After the articles appeared, Wafio was dismissed from his position. At Gbossokotto's trial on Friday, July 16, the prosecutor requested a one-year jail sentence.
Gbossokotto's arrest came the same day that Communications Minister Parfait Mbaye released a statement that was read on state radio criticizing the private press. Mbaye accused "certain members of the private press" of "disinformation, manipulation, and damaging the image of the highest members of government," according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
On July 9, Sylvain N'zas, state prosecutor at the Appeals Court of CAR, publicly accused the independent press of disrespect for the authorities and threatened legal action. "The attacks against the head of state and the ministers have reached unacceptable proportions," he told a meeting of publication directors, according to AFP.
Local sources say it is unclear which articles prompted these statements. But they note the independent press has been critical of Your Excellency's government and active in denouncing alleged corruption in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2005.
On May 14, Judes Zossé, publication director of the private daily newspaper L'Hirondelle (The Swallow), was released from prison after serving more than two months of a six-month sentence for allegedly defaming Your Excellency.
We urge Your Excellency to do all in your power to ensure that Maka Gbossokotto is released immediately, and that criminal penalties for press offenses are removed from the statutes in the Central African Republic. We remind Your Excellency of your promises to respect press freedom, and ask you to guarantee a climate in which journalists can report freely and without fear of reprisal.
We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.