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Central African Republic1 October 2004

Backing for "day without newspapers" to get press offences decriminalized

Reporters Without Borders today hailed the protest announced yesterday by the Group of Independent Privately-Owned Central African Press Editors (GEPPIC), which said it will no longer publish newspapers on Fridays until President François Bozizé’s government keeps a promise to decriminalize press offences. The protest starts today.

"We have to support a peaceful initiative that calls on a country’s president to keep his word," Reporters Without Borders said. "If the Central African Republic amended its press code and stopped throwing journalists in prison, it would join the circle of African countries that respect the right to information."

The decriminalization of press offences was one of the pledges made by Bozizé when he took power on 15 March 2003. But "these pious wishes" were never followed up with concrete action, a GEPPIC statement said. Instead "six journalists have had to endure imprisonment in police or gendarmerie cells, or in the cells of the sadly notorious N’garagba prison," the statement added.

The most recent case was that of Maka Gbossokotto, who edits the independent daily Le Citoyen and is the Reporters Without Borders correspondent in the Central African Republic.

A Bangui court fined him 500,000 CFA francs (750 euros) and gave him a one-year suspended sentence on 8 August after he spent a month in custody because of a libel action brought by former national power utility chief Jean-Serge Wafio, who had been fired by Bozizé for mismanagement and was accused of embezzlement in several articles in Le Citoyen.

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