Private press group executive jailed in CAR after criticizing official media body

New York, March 13, 2007—The leader of a local group of private press editors was jailed on Monday in the capital Bangui over statements critical of the governmental High Communication Council (HCC).

Editor Michel Alkhaly Ngady of the private weekly Les Temps Nouveaux and the president of GEPPIC, a local organization of publishers, was summoned and jailed in a police station near Bangui’s harbor, according to local journalists and news reports. In a telephone interview, Ngady was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that the summons was linked to a complaint by HCC President Pierre Sammy-Mackfoy accusing GEPPIC of “sabotaging the actions of the HCC.” He remained in police custody, according to local journalists.

The move came after Ngady had led GEPPIC and other local press groups in filing a separate complaint against the HCC over alleged irregularities in the appointment of some of its nine members, according to news reports and local journalists. The local press groups asserted that HCC’s authority was illegal as a result of alleged violations of the HCC’s by-laws, according to the same sources. Attempts by CPJ to reach an HCC official for comment were unsuccessful. A ruling by a state arbitrator is pending.

“We condemn the imprisonment of Michel Alkhaly Ngady,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to release him immediately.”

Last month, the HCC, originally created as an independent body with regulation powers, had already suspended the private weekly Le Centrafriqu’Un for one month, according to local journalists. The ruling was linked to an article critical of neighboring Chad’s role in the conflict against rebels in the northern part of the country, according to local journalists. Central African Republic has struggled for more than a year to contain a rebellion in the northwest.

The next day, a GEPPIC press release called the ruling “null” and instructed the paper to continue publishing on account of “irregularities which have marred the appointments of certain [HCC] members,” according to private daily Le Confident. But the paper was no longer publishing, reporter Jean-Magloire Issa of leading independent Radio Ndéké-Luka told CPJ. GEPPIC was meeting today to prepare a statement, Issa said.

Last November, Ngady was one of four prominent editors threatened with death by a government minister over their critical reporting of the conflict in the northeast of the country.