Imprisoned journalist receives suspended sentence

New York, August 9, 2004—A court in the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, today sentenced Maka Gbossokotto, publication director of the private French language daily Le Citoyen, to a 12-month suspended jail term and a 500,000 CFA franc (US$960) fine for printing “public insults” against businessman Jean-Serge Wafio.

Gbossokotto was also charged with defamation, but the court dismissed those charges. After spending one month in jail, Gbossokotto was freed today. His lawyers are appealing the judgment.

Gbossokotto told CPJ he is “very disappointed” by the court’s decision, and that it represents a miscarriage of justice.

Gbossokotto was arrested in Bangui on July 8, after Wafio, the former director of CAR’s national power company, filed a defamation suit against the journalist. The charges stemmed from a series of articles published in Le Citoyen that accused Wafio of mismanagement and embezzlement, according to local sources and international news reports. After the articles ran, Wafio was fired.

The journalist told CPJ that by dismissing the defamation charges, the court acknowledged that his report was true. However, the public insult charge was retained and stemmed from Gbossokotto writing that Wafio was a “predator.”

“While we welcome Gbossokotto’s release, we remain outraged that he was jailed for a month awaiting trial,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The insult charges against him should be overturned immediately. This judgment underlines the need for the government to remove criminal penalties for press offenses.”