The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to renew our demand that imprisoned journalist Jude Zossé be immediately and unconditionally released. We are also concerned that Zossé remains jailed despite Your Excellency’s March 15 pardon for non-violent prisoners.
Zossé, publication director of the private daily L’Hirondelle (The Swallow), was arrested on February 25 in connection with an article titled “General Bozizé: the State’s Tax-collector.” He was sentenced on March 12 to six months in prison and fined 200,000 CFA francs (US$380) for “insulting the head of state.”
The article, which originally ran on the news Web site Centrafrique-presse.com, alleged that after Your Excellency came to power in a March 2003 coup, you personally took over the collection of state tax revenue in the Central African Republic, prompting two senior Treasury officials to contemplate resignation. Centrafrique-presse.com is a France-based opposition Web site run by former President Ange-Félix Patassé’s spokesperson, Prosper N’Douba.
On March 15, which marked Your Excellency ‘s first year in power, you granted a presidential pardon for prisoners who had been convicted of crimes not involving violence or corruption. Zossé’s lawyers say they withdrew their appeal of his conviction so that he could benefit from the pardon. They are now being told that the matter must be decided by the Appeals Court. No date has yet been set for a hearing.
On April 9, two gendarmes interrogated Zossé in his prison cell about an article in the April 8 edition of L’Hirondelle that accused Your Excellency of misappropriating Treasury funds, according to Agence France-Presse. The article was reprinted from Afrique-Educations, a monthly published in France, and was clearly sourced. This interrogation has fueled fears among local journalists that authorities may be seeking to keep Zossé in jail.
As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ calls on you to release Zossé immediately and unconditionally. We also urge you to repeal criminal penalties for press offenses.
We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.