Bangui Public Prosecutor Firmin Seindiro is seeking an 18-month
prison sentence against Jude Zossé, director of the private daily
"L’Hirondelle" (The Swallow"). Zossé is charged with "insulting the head of
state". The journalist, who has been detained since 25 February 2004, was
not granted a provisional release. A verdict in the case is expected to be
delivered on 12 March.
Reporters Without Borders is shocked by Zossé’s extended detention and asks that he not be
sentenced to prison. "We are all the more surprised considering that the
prosecutor assured us in a 26 February telephone
exchange that Jude Zossé would be granted a provisional release. In addition
to not respecting his promise, the prosecutor is seeking an 18-month
sentence with no parole. Such a decision would be contrary to United Nations
recommendations, according to which press offences should not be punishable
by prison terms. This is unacceptable behaviour from a representative of the
justice system. We urge the court to correct this grave error and abstain
from sentencing the journalist to a prison term," the organisation said.
"The Central African Republic government is not respecting its commitments
either. The authorities had signaled their clear intention to decriminalise
press offences when they contacted us in 2003. Nothing has happened since
then and Mr. Zossé is paying the price of this inaction. It is imperative
that the authorities relaunch discussions on a reform of the law with a view
towards abolishing prison sentences for offences of this nature," the
Zossé was arrested on 25 February and charged with "insulting the head of
state". The authorities were upset by the publication of an article in the
23 February edition of "L’Hirondelle" entitled, "General Bozizé, great
cashier-tax collector of the state". The article originally appeared on the
website of the opposition bi-weekly "Centrafique-Presse". It accused the
president of embezzling a large portion of state funds for his personal use.
Zossé was since transferred to Bangui’s Ngarangba prison. The verdict in his
trial is scheduled to be delivered on 12 March.