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PARLIAMENT DECRIMINALISES PRESS OFFENCES

Journalists in the Central African Republic (CAR) can no longer be jailed for press offences, following the passing of a new law that decriminalises defamation and the publication of "false news," says Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

On 25 November 2004, the country's transitional government passed legislation amending a controversial press law enacted in 1998, which contained provisions under which journalists could be imprisoned for breaking the law.

Those provisions provoked an outcry among local independent media earlier this year when journalist Maka Gbossokotto was detained in July after a defamation complaint was filed against his daily newspaper "Le Citoyen." Gbossokotto spent a month in prison and was fined the equivalent of US$1,000 for "public insults." He also received a one-year suspended prison sentence.

Many condemned Gbossokotto's arrest, including the CAR Association of Private and Independent Newspaper Publishers (Groupement centrafricain des éditeurs de la presse privée et indépendante, GEPPIC). In July, GEPPIC stopped publishing its newspapers for a week to protest Gbossokotto's detention. In October, it also vowed to stop publishing newspapers on Fridays until the government decriminalised press offences.

The CAR government's decision to amend the 1998 Press Law follows a national reconciliation process that General François Bozizé initiated late last year after taking power in a coup in March 2003. A commission on politics and diplomacy recommended that the 1998 Press Law be reformed and an independent media regulatory body be created.

For more information, see:

- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11998
- CPJ Backgrounder on CAR: http://www.cpj.org/attacks03/africa03/central.html
- International Press Institute: http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/Africa/car.htm
- IRIN News: http://www.irinnews.org/frontpage.asp?SelectRegion=Great_Lakes&SelectCountry=Central_African_Republic

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