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Central African Republic

-  Surface area: 622,980 sq. km
-  Population: 3,717,000
-  Languages: French, Sango
-  Type of State: unitary republic

Central African Republic - Annual report 2002

The media, used as much by the state as by opponents and those responsible for the attempted coup in May, have been at the centre of the news. A journalist was tortured in jail for publishing an opinion poll unfavourable to the state president.

The Central African Republic was the victim of a new coup attempt on 28 May 2001. For ten days the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) fought against soldiers of former president André Kolingba. The official death toll was about 60 but local human rights organisations say that over 200 people were killed. The transmitter of the national radio station in Bangui, destroyed during the first hours of fighting, was one of the rebels’ first targets. On 2 June the authorities set up a station, Radio paix et liberté, transmitting directly from the presidential residence. The independent station Ndeke Luka, established in Bangui by the Hirondelle Foundation, continued to operate and enabled the authorities to broadcast calls for calm. On 13 June Radio Centrafrique resumed its broadcasts.

In the following month the Central African Republic government tried to control news concerning the 28 May events and subsequent reprisals as best it could. In early October gendarmes prevented a press conference organised by the Bar from taking place. Advocates in the country had wanted to denounce the arrest of their confrere Zarambaud Assingambi, accused of participating the coup. The president of the Bar deplored this prohibition, saying that Advocate Zarambaud had been detained for his opinions. A few weeks later General François Bozizé, former FACA chief of staff, accused of an attempted coup in early November, announced that he no longer had the right to talk to journalists. "The authorities have informed me that I’m no longer authorised to make statements to the press because apparently they are sensational" he told Agence France-Presse. In December journalists from the state-owned media deplored "editors’ lack of a margin of freedom" regarding this affair.

Journalists jailed

One journalist jailed in 2000 was released during the year.

On 8 January 2001, Raphaël Kopessoua, managing editor of Vouma la mouche, was acquitted. He had been arrested on 19 December 2000 and accused of "participating in a banned demonstration".

Another journalist was jailed and then released in 2001. On 14 February Aboukary Tembeley, president of the human rights movement MDDH and managing editor of the Journal des droits de l’homme, was summoned to the offices of the national gendarmerie. He was immediately taken to the Bangui territorial gendarmerie headquarters and accused of publishing an opinion poll entitled "Should President Patassé resign?" in which 173 of the 200 respondents answered "yes". On 5 March 2001 the Bangui court found Aboukary Tembeley guilty of "manœuvres likely to undermine public safety and cause serious political unrest". He was sentenced to two months in jail and a fine of 150,000 CFA francs (227 euros) for not complying with legal requirements to register his publication. Aboukary Tembeley was pardoned on 6 March by the state president, Ange-Félix Patassé, and released two days later. The journalist and human rights activist was ill-treated in jail and had to be hospitalised for a week at his own cost. He suffered from multiple bruises on the head and lung problems after being beaten up.

Journalists threatened

In July 2001 Maka Gbossokotto, Reporters Without Borders correspondent and managing editor of the independent daily Le Citoyen, received death threats and his wife was assaulted. A vendor of Le Citoyen was arrested by a member of the USP (ex-GP), the presidential guard, on 10 July and told to report the following statement to Maka Gbossokotto: "I’m the GP you spoke about in your newspaper. Go and tell your managing editor that I’m looking for him and if he’s unlucky enough for me to find him I blow his brains out". On 13 July the same officer repeated the threat to the journalist’s wife who was prevented from boarding a plane to Paris on 22 July. No reason was given for this refusal. These threats were related to an article in the 2 July issue of Le Citoyen denouncing an attempt to murder two senior financial officials in the government of former president André Kolingba, from the Yakoma tribe. Three managing editors from the Yakoma tribe went underground for fear of reprisals. On 24 July a detachment consisting of soldiers, gendarmes and police officers seized copies of Le Citoyen at the printers, without any authorisation. They also confiscated the computer and printing unit. Two machine operators and a computer specialist were arrested and detained for a short while.

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see also
Annual report 2002

Hard times for press freedom
Asia annual report 2002
Americas annual report 2002
Europe annual report 2002
Maghreb / Middle-East annual report 2002