CAR editor sentenced to jail for defamation

New York, January 29, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Monday’s six-month prison sentence given by the Bangui Magistrates’ Court to the editorial director of a private weekly in the Central African Republic. The editor of Les Collines de l’Oubangui, Faustin Bambou, was found guilty of inciting revolt, abuse, and defamation.

Bambou must also pay a symbolic fine of 1 CFA franc to Minister of Foreign Affairs Côme Zoumara and his Mining Ministry counterpart, Sylvain Ndoutingaï, as well as publish the entire verdict in his newspaper.

In an article published by his paper on December 25, 2007, Bambou declared that the two ministers had taken 7 billion CFA francs (US$16 million) in illegal commissions from the French company Areva, local journalists reported. The embezzled money was earmarked to cover outstanding salaries of civil servants. According to defense lawyer Mathias Barthélémy Morouba, the prosecution accused Bambou of prolonging an ongoing strike by civil servants that started earlier this month.

The court said Bambou could not prove his allegations that the two ministers had misappropriated funds. The journalist’s three defense lawyers are appealing the ruling.

“The Central African Republic’s court ruling defies its own laws, which decriminalized press offenses three years ago,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the court to hear Faustin Bambou’s appeal immediately and overturn this faulty ruling.” 

Bambou was the second journalist sent to prison for his work since the country decriminalized press offenses in 2005, according to CPJ research. In March 2007, Michel Alkhaly Ngady, who heads a local group of private press editors, spent two months in prison on similar criminal charges after issuing a press release protesting a ruling of the state-run media regulator.

In July 2003, Bambou was repeatedly summoned by police and pressed to reveal his sources for a story alleging that a local businessman was attempting to extort the government, according to CPJ research.