Reporters Without Borders condemns newspaper editor Faustin Bambou’s arrest on charges of “inciting violence and hatred” in a series of articles from 28 February to 25 March about demonstrations by former soldiers in which he suggested that defence minister Jean-Francis Bozizé, President François Bozizé’s son, had embezzled funds donated by the European Union.
Bambou, who edits the independent weekly Les Collines de l'Oubangui, was detained illegally at the headquarters of the national gendarmerie’s Research and Investigation Department for 10 days following his arrest without a warrant on 27 May. He was transferred to Bangui’s Ngaragba prison on 6 June. The exact reasons for the charges are still unclear.
“We condemn the jailing of Bambou, who was simply doing his job by reporting a matter of public interest,” Reporters Without Borders said. “His initial detention for much longer that the permitted period for police custody was already a flagrant violation of the law.
The authorities have not been able to arrest journalists for defamation since 2005 because defamation has been decriminalized, and we deplore the fact that they can still arrest journalists on a charge of inciting violence. The charge is clearly abusive and we call on the prosecutor to immediately abandon the proceedings and release Bambou.”
Bambou was summoned for questioning as a witness by the head of the Bangui gendarmerie on 27 May, but was immediately detained without being brought before any judge. On 6 June, he was interrogated and then charged by prosecutor Arnauld Djoubaye, who made the highly questionable assertion that Bambou’s articles had prompted the demonstrations by former soldiers demanding to be paid.
Bambou told Reporters Without Borders through his lawyers that the prosecutor also tried to blame him for articles by other journalists that have also embarrassed the authorities. Bambou’s articles asked the defence minister to explain the disappearance of an estimated 3.8 billion CFA francs (5.15 million euros) that were donated by the European Union to pay retired soldiers as part of a programme for the reform of the security sector.
Bambou’s lawyers have still not been given the prosecution case file. The prosecutor claims that his articles about the series of demonstrations beginning on 28 February by 812 soldiers who were retired in 2007 had “incited violence and hatred,” a criminal offence.
Although it has not been confirmed, it seems that the charges were brought against Bambou as a result of a complaint by Jean-Francis Bozizé, the defence minister. It is regrettable that he did not instead ask to use his right of reply in Les Collines de l'Oubangui.
Reporters Without Borders has been told that similar charges have been brought against Sandy Cyrus, the head of Média Plus publications, and M. Kongbo, a reporter for On dit quoi, and that they have had to go into hiding. Their news media were criticised on national radio on 17 May by Alain-George Ngatoua, the defence ministry’s spokesman, who claimed that there had been an “all-out smear campaign” against the minister.
Bambou was previously sentenced to 6 months in prison on 28 January 2008 on a charge of “inciting revolt.” He was given a presidential pardon four weeks later .
The Central African Republic is ranked 69th out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Photo : Vincent Fournier / J.A