Reporters Without Borders has protested the arrest of Ferdinand Samba, publication director of the independent daily "Le Démocrate", who was detained for four days, beyond the legal time limit for detentions in police custody.
The organisation has expressed concern about the deteriorating press freedom situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). "This latest incarceration of a CAR journalist is all the more dismaying in that General François Bozizé’s new regime had made specific commitments regarding media freedom and had earlier announced the decriminalisation of press law violations," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard said. "The new CAR authorities even contacted our organisation in order to assure us of their goodwill. We can only deplore that their promises have not been respected," he added.
Samba was arrested on 11 July 2003 at 3:45 p.m. (local time) at the headquarters of the CAR Private and Independent Press Publishers’ Association (Groupement des éditeurs de la presse privée indépendante de Centrafrique, GEPPIC). He was placed in detention and interrogated at the police station in Bangui’s port. The journalist was finally released on 15 July at 2:00 p.m. and was not charged with any offence.
Samba had written an article, published on 8 July, about the armed conflict in the country’s north. He was accused of causing panic among local citizens in the region by disseminating "alarming and incorrect information". He had reported that supporters of former president Ange-Félix Patassé had launched an attack on the city of Kaga Bandoro and that 30 people had died in the fighting.
In addition, Faustin Bambou, publication director of the twice-weekly "Les Collines du Bas-Oubangui", was threatened and sought by the authorities after publishing an article on 3 July in which he criticised the privileges reportedly granted to Mahamat Youssouf, a Chadian national close to General Bozizé. He was summoned to the police station on 7 and 8 July and interrogated at length. His case file has since been sent to the state prosecutor.
Finally, on 3 July, a court in M’Baiki, in southern CAR, sentenced Michel Ngokpele, publication director of "Le quotidien de Bangui" newspaper, to six months’ imprisonment with no parole for "defamation by means of the press" and "incitement to ethnic hatred". He wrote an article in mid-May in which he implicated a doctor in the deaths of several patients at a local hospital. Police arrested Ngokpele on 18 May and transferred him to M’Baiki prison.