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Central African Republic10 March 2004

Bangui prosecutor seeks 18-month prison sentence against newspaper director for "insulting the head of state"

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 organisation added.

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.

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