CPJ condemns imprisonment of journalist

New York, NY, July 12, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the imprisonment of Maka Gbossokotto, publication director of the private French-language daily Le Citoyen in the Central African Republic (CAR). Charged with defamation and slander, Gbossokotto was transferred today to the N’Garagba Central Prison in the capital, Bangui, after appearing before a Bangui prosecutor, CPJ sources said.

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.

Gbossokotto’s arrest came the same day that Communications Minister Parfait Mbaye read a statement 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). It was unclear what articles provoked the statement, according to local sources.

Private newspapers in CAR refused to publish their editions today to protest Gbossokotto’s imprisonment, according to AFP. A local organization of editors, known by its French acronym GEPPIC, said the shutdown would continue until Gbossokotto is released.

“Despite a stated commitment to press freedom, CAR’s government has shown itself ready to harass and imprison journalists who report on matters of public concern,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “CPJ demands the immediate and unconditional release of Maka Gbossokotto, and we call on authorities in CAR to ensure that journalists can do their work without fear of official reprisal.”

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 defaming the president.