Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the passage of a law ending prison terms for press offences. The Central African Republic’s (RCA) transitional Parliament adopted the law on 25 November 2004.
"RCA journalists can be proud to have led a peaceful and successful campaign [to decriminalise press offences], which is so important for the building of a genuine democracy," said Reporters Without Borders. "RCA citizens, journalists, politicians and governments will soon reap the benefits of the law’s adoption, in terms of security, freedom and respect. We urge President François Bozizé not to obstruct this victory for democracy and to circulate the text [of the law] without delay," the organisation added.
The previous 1998 press law was particularly controversial. It included provisions for prison terms with no parole for "defamation" and the "publication of false news". In 2002, National Assembly parliamentarians had voted to reject a reform of the law and maintained the repressive 1998 legislation on the books.
The general outcry surrounding the Maka Gbossokotto affair in the summer of 2004 undoubtedly helped to convince President Bozizé of the urgent need to reform the Press Code. Gbossokotto was arrested on 8 July. The publication director of the privately-owned daily "Le Citoyen" and Reporters Without Borders correspondent spent one month in prison after a defamation complaint was filed against him by an associate of the president. After spending one month in detention in deplorable conditions, Gbossokotto finally received a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs (approx. US$1,000; 760 euros) for "public insults".
Gbossokotto’s arrest and detention were widely condemned, notably by the RCA Association of Private and Independent Newspaper Publishers (Groupement centrafricain des éditeurs de la presse privée et indépendante, GEPPIC). In a protest action, the group suspended publication of all of its media titles from 12 to 19 July. Following his 8 August release, Gbossokotto became one of the most vocal organisers of the Geppic and the RCA Journalists’ Union (Union des journalistes de Centrafrique, UJCA). He demanded that the government reform the Press Code, just as President Bozizé had promised when he came to power. GEPPIC also launched a "day without newspapers", vowing to no longer publish newspapers on Fridays until the government decriminalised press offences.