- A criminal court in the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, today sentenced to prison the president of a private press group, who has been jailed since 12 March in connection with statements critical of the governmental High Communication Council (HCC).
Michel Alkhaly Ngady - who heads a group of private press editors known by the French acronym GEPPIC - was sentenced to two months in prison and fined 300,000 CFA francs (US$ 636) on charges of "resistance and disobedience to public authorities and contempt for the laws," according to news reports from the Central African Republic. He was returned to prison, pending an appeal.
Today, private newspapers staged a "press-free day" to protest the imprisonment of Mr Ngady, who is also director of the private weekly 'Les Temps Nouveaux', according to news reports.
The charges stemmed from an obstruction suit filed by the HCC after Mr Ngady's group opposed the Council's February decision to suspend for one month the private weekly 'Le Centrafriqu'Un' over an article critical of neighbouring Chad, according to research by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The weekly went on publishing.
GEPPIC and two other local press groups cited irregularities in the membership of the HCC, noting that two members lacked the professional experience required in the government agency's bylaws. One of the members was a presidential appointee, army Colonel Gaston Gambor.
"Far from showing 'contempt' Michel Alkhaly Ngady is engaging in the democratic practice of representing the views of his membership on a matter of public importance," said CPJ Director Joel Simon in a statement released today. "We condemn the prison sentence against Michel Alkhaly Ngady and ask that the appeals court, when it hears all the evidence, overturn the verdict," Mr Simon added.
In 2005, President François Bozizé of the Central African Republic signed a law that decriminalised most press offences - including defamation and "insult". But the charges filed in this case were not considered to be press offences.
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