Journalist released from prison

New York, March 20, 2003— Mathurin Momet, publication director of the private daily Le Confident in the Central African Republic (CAR), was released by rebels under the command of General François Bozizé on Saturday, March 15. He had spent more than three weeks in prison.

Momet was among a group of prisoners jailed by President Ange-Félix Patassé’s government. Bozizé and his supporters, who have been fighting government forces since late 2001, took control of the country in a coup on March 15 and released the prisoners.

Police arrested Momet on February 20 and charged him with “threatening state security” and “inciting tribal hatred.” The accusations stemmed from two articles that appeared in Le Confident in February, reporting that Patassé had received an undignified reception at the Franco-African Summit in Paris and criticizing Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), which were supporting Patassé against Bozizé.

According to local sources, newspapers in CAR’s capital, Bangui, suspended publication on March 3 for 48 hours to protest Momet’s detention.

Momet’s arrest came a day after police in Bangui detained Joseph Bénamsé, a correspondent for the BBC and The Associated Press. The authorities interrogated Bénamsé about his reports on the presence of Rwandan troops among the MLC rebels that were supporting Patassé. Bénamsé was released later that day.