Maka Gbossokotto, the editor of the daily Le Citoyen and Reporters Without Borders’ correspondent in the Central African Republic, has been charged with libel and transferred to N’Garaba prison to await trial.
He was detained on 8 July as a result of a libel suit brought by Jean-Serge Wafio, the former head of the power utility company Enerca, over Le Citoyen’s claim that he had embezzled the company’s funds.
Gbossokotto’s wife was able to visit him in prison, give him some personal effects and establish that he was in good health.
9 july 2004
Outrage over arrest of Reporters Without Borders correspondent
Gbossokotto was summoned yesterday to the criminal investigation department of the Bangui gendarmerie for questioning about a libel complaint by Jean-Serge Wafio, who was fired by President François Bozizé from his post as director of the power utility, Energie Centrafricaine (ENERCA), for mismanagement. Several articles in Le Citoyen had accused him of embezzlement.
After being questioned, he was placed in police custody on the instructions of the state prosecutor. He spent the night in prison and has still not been released.
At an extraordinary general assembly today, the Group of Central African Privately-Owned Press Editors (GEPPIC) decided to stop publishing their newspapers until Gbossokotto is released.
"This case if far from being isolated," Reporters Without Borders said, pointing out that two journalists were summoned for questioning on 9 July but decided not to go for fear of suffering the same fate. "We remind the authorities of the undertakings they gave to respect freedom of information when they came to power in March 2003."
The independent media were the target of two threatening communiques issued on 7 July by the communication minister, Lt. Col. Parfait Mbay.
The first condemned "serious excesses noted lately in certain privately-owned independent newspapers, some of which are being used by some of our compatriots to misinform, manipulate and discredit the most senior government figures and other compatriots." Editors should "tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, while remembering that not every truth should be told," it added.
In his second communique, Mbay threatened the same editors with the closure of their newspapers if did not comply by 15 July with the January 2003 freedom of communication act (Law No. 03/002), which requires privately-owed newspapers to submit applications for publication permits accompanied by a copy of the editor’s police record.
So far this year, three journalists have been subjected to detention while Jude Zossé, the editor of L’Hirondelle, was sentenced to six months in prison for press crimes. He subsequently received a presidential pardon.