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Central African Republic12 March 2004

Publisher of L’Hirondelle imprisoned for six months

Publisher of the daily L’Hirondelle Jude Zossé, has been sentenced to six months in prison and fined 200,000 FCFA (305 euros) for "insulting the head of state".

Reporters Without Borders urged the courts to lift the sentence imposed on 12 March and reminded the Central African Republic authorities of their commitments to press freedom.

"We had appealed to the prosecutor in Bangui, Firmin Feindiro, not to pass a jail sentence on Zossé. It appears that our appeal was in vain, despite the fact that the journalist was not even the author of the article, which he simply reprinted it from an opposition website," the international press freedom organisation said.

"His sentences is excessive and constitutes a serious attack on press freedom," the organisation added.

"The authorities are playing a double game in this case. On one hand they said they want to work to promote press freedom while on the other hand they lie, as did Feindiro and put journalists in jail. "This is no longer acceptable and we call on President Bozizé to do everything possible to see that journalists can work normally and freely."

The journalist was accused in connection with an article carried in the 23 February edition of the newspaper headlined "General Bozizé, Big State cashier and tax collector", taken from the website of a bi-weekly opposition newspaper, Centrafrique-Presse. The offending article accused the president of embezzling a large sum from state funds for his personal use, provoking the resignation of several officials at the finance ministry.

Following Zossé’s arrest on 23 February 2004, the Bangui prosecutor assured Reporters Without Borders that he would be granted bail before the verdict on 12 March. This was then refused.

In 2003, the government contacted Reporters Without Borders to discuss its intention to no longer penalise press offences. Since then, despite reminders from the organisation, the discussion has never been resumed.

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