Freedom of the Press - Central African Republic (2005)

Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 23
Political Influences: 22
Economic Pressures: 18
Total Score: 63

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 42
Religious Groups: Indigenous beliefs (35 percent), Protestant (25 percent), Roman Catholic (25 percent), Muslim (15 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Baya (33 percent), Banda (27 percent), Mandjia (13 percent), Sara (10 percent), Mboum (7 percent), other (10 percent)
Capital: Bangui

Despite promises by the new government to respect press freedom and amend restrictive media laws, authorities continued to use draconian criminal libel laws to prosecute journalists during the year. Maka Gbossokotto, publisher of the daily newspaper Le Citoyen, was arrested on July 8 after Jean-Serge Wanfio, a relative of Central African Republic leader Francois Bozize and head of the state-owned electricity company, filed a court complaint. After more than a month of pretrial detention, Gbossokotto received a one-year suspended sentence and US$1,000 fine for "publicly insulting" the official in an article that alleged misappropriation of funds. In March, the same court sentenced Jude Zosse, publisher of the privately owned newspaper L'Hirondelle, to six months in prison for slandering Bozize by calling him a "state tax collector." Zosse was released under a presidential pardon after serving two months of his sentence. The jailing of Gbossokotto and others provoked widespread condemnation. In a protest action, the country's Association of Private and Independent Newspaper Publishers vowed to stop publishing on Fridays until the press code was revised in accordance with the promises Bozize made when he took power. Following intense lobbying by journalists and media associations, in December the country's parliament passed a law decriminalizing press offenses, although it has not yet been signed by Bozize. It will replace the controversial 1998 press code, which included provisions for prison terms with no parole for defamation and the "publication of false news."

The UN peacekeeping mission in the country reported numerous press freedom violations in the last five months of 2004. Journalists are subject to arrest and detention at the hands of authorities, and continuing violence has inhibited their ability to report from rural areas, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Broadcast media remain dominated by the state; coverage focuses on the activities of senior government officials and rarely reflects opposition views. Several independent newspapers publish regularly and freely criticize the government, but they are not distributed outside the capital city of Bangui. Most licensed private radio stations are music or religion oriented, but some carry programming on human rights and peace-building issues, and the UN-sponsored Radio N'Deke Luka provides balanced local news and commentary and also rebroadcasts foreign news programs. Access to international news broadcasts and to the Internet is not restricted.

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