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Editor arrested for not paying six-year-old fine

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate release of Jean-Yves Ntoutoume, editor of the independent newspaper "Le Temps". Ntoutoume was detained on 26 October 2010 at the Central Prison in Libreville. The journalist was arrested for not paying the entire amount of a 10 million CFA francs (approx. 15 000 euros) fine, in relation to a six-year-old defamation case. The arrest has reinitiated the debate on the decriminalisation of press offenses in the country.

"Jean-Yves Ntoutoume's arrest is excessive. A fine of 10 million CFA francs is obviously too high for a newspaper such as 'Le Temps', which sells a limited number of copies and operates in a difficult economic environment," RSF said.

"It puts the journalist in a difficult economic and legal position: he will not be able to pay the remainder of the fine, and because he is unable to pay, he will be treated as an outlaw and will remain in prison. Far from challenging the initial trial, RSF urges the authorities to find a path of reconciliation and to issue a reasonable fine, which the accused could actually afford.

The excessive fines that are demanded of the press have only one outcome: the gradual closure of media outlets, which are too indebted to continue their operations. Do the 5 million CFA francs that have so far been paid not suffice in repairing damages?"

Ntoutoume was summoned to the police station on 26 October and immediately placed in custody.

In 2004, "Le Temps" had questioned the accounting of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG, the ruling party) in a robbery case. The editor and the journalist who wrote the article were charged with "defamation" and sentenced to pay a heavy fine of 10 million CFA francs.

At the time, the two men were only able to pay one million CFA francs. On 27 October, Ntoutoume's colleague paid an additional four million CFA francs. In order to release the journalist, the court is asking for an additional five million CFA francs, a sum which the journalist does not have.

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