28 January 2008

Central African Republic: Newspaper Editor Sentenced to Six Months in Prison

press release

Reporters Without Borders condemns the six-month prison sentence passed today on Faustin Bambou, the editor of the privately-owned weekly Les Collines de l'Oubangui, on charges of libel, insult and "incitement to revolt" because of an article accusing two ministers of taking kickbacks.

"Bambou is the victim of judicial manoeuvring designed to put him in prison regardless," the press freedom organisation said. "Circumventing the law to achieve this aim is very worrying for the rule of law and dangerous for the country. This distressing abuse of power by a government that undertook to respect the democratic rules will require an active response on our part."

Arrested on 11 January, Bambou was sentenced to six months in prison and symbolic damages of one CFA franc for claiming that two government ministers took several billion CFA francs in illegal commissions from the French company Areva. The court ordered Bambou's newspaper to published its verdict. Bambou's lawyers are to appeal.

When the trial opened on 21 January, the state prosecutor requested a two-year sentence and a fine of 3 million CFA francs (4,500 euros). An attempt by Reporters Without Borders to mediate with the state prosecutor was unsuccessful. A promise to modify the charges was not kept.

Bambou is the second journalist to be imprisoned since the law providing for imprisonment for press offences was repealed by the transitional parliament on 25 November 2004. The first was Michel Alkhaly-Ngady, the head of a print media union and editor of the Temps Nouveaux newspaper, who was imprisoned for two months in early 2007.

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

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