While welcoming the release of newspaper editor Maka Gbossokotto, Reporters Without Borders today deplored his conviction by a Bangui court yesterday on a charge of "public insults" and its decision to impose a suspended sentence of one year in prison as well as a fine of 500,000 CFA francs (750 euros).
"Maka Gbossokotto may have left the court a free man but we roundly condemn the decision taken by the judges because a one-year prison sentence, even if suspended, is still a fundamental violation of free information," the organisation said. "Gbossokotto will have to work with a sword of Damocles above his head for 12 months."
The editor of the independent daily Le Citoyen and correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, Gbossokotto had been detained since 8 July as a result of a libel suit brought by the former head of the national power utility ENERCA, Jean-Serge Wafio.
The judges gave Gbossokotto the benefit of the doubt on the charge of libel, but found that the lesser charge of public insults was founded. Wafio, who was fired by President François Bozizé for mismanagement, was accused of embezzlement in several articles in Le Citoyen.
Gbossokotto’s lawyers clearly demonstrated the accuracy of the facts reported in the articles in Le Citoyen, Reporters Without Borders said. As his work was beyond reproach, the judges could not find him guilty of libel, and had to fall back on the public insults charge, which is a much vaguer legal concept.
Reporters Without Borders added: "There has been a political dimension to this case from the word go - the judicial authorities went out of their way to get Gbossokotto."
Gbossokotto’s lawyers have said they will appeal against the conviction.