CAR journalist imprisoned over corruption editorial

New York, January 15, 2008—A court in the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, today sent the director of a private newspaper to prison to await trial on criminal charges in connection with an editorial about a political scandal.

Faustin Bambou of the biweekly Les Collines de l’Oubangui was transferred to Bangui’s main Ngaraba prison after his arraignment on charges of “incitement to disturbances against law and order and revolt against public institutions”—a criminal offense carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison under the penal code, according to defense lawyer Mathias Barthélemy Morouba.

The public prosecutor also lodged defamation charges, which carry fines of up to 500,000 CFA francs (US$1,100), according to Morouba. The defense will petition for a provisional release at a court hearing scheduled next week, he said.

“The Central African Republic decriminalized press laws three years ago yet journalists continue to be put behind bars for their work,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the government to drop all charges against Faustin Bambou and respect its own laws.”

Bambou was summoned by phone to the state prosecutor’s office on Friday and held for questioning over a December 21 editorial alleging Mining Minister Sylvain Doutingaï and Foreign Minister Côme Zoumara embezzled 7 billion CFA francs (US$16 million), purportedly meant for civil service salaries, according to local journalists and CPJ research.

The officials did not publicly comment on the allegations, but the prosecutor asserted that the editorial “incited” the country’s biggest labor union to strike—which they have doing been since January 2—over the non-payment of several months of salary, according to news reports. Doutingaï and Zoumara filed a complaint against Bambou on Monday, according to Morouba.

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.