On Friday, a judge in the capital, Bangui, convicted Ferdinand Samba, editor of the private weekly Le DĂ©mocrate, on charges of defamation, insult, and incitement to hatred over a series of opinion articles dating back to September 2011 that were critical of finance minister Sylvain NdoutingaĂŻ, according to news reports. Only the incitement charge carried a prison sentence under the countryâs 2005 press law, the journalistâs defense lawyer, Nicolas Tiangaye, told CPJ.
Samba, who has been imprisoned since mid-January based on a complaint filed by NdoutingaĂŻ, was sentenced to 10 monthsâ imprisonment and a fine of 1 million CFA francs (US$1,976), news reports said. The judge also ordered the journalist to pay 10 million CFA francs (US$19,762) in damages to NdoutingaĂŻ and imposed a one-year suspension on Le DĂ©mocrate.Tiangaye told CPJ that although he immediately filed an appeal upon hearing the verdict, authorities had already sealed the newspaperâsoffices and returned the journalist to Ngaragba Central Prison in Bangui.
Another newspaper editor, Patrick Agoundou of the pro-government La Plume, was convicted in absentia on similar charges, according to news reports. The journalist had written articles criticizing NdoutingaĂŻâs management of public finances and had reported on allegations of abuse of power and embezzlement, local journalists told CPJ. Fearing arrest, Agoundou fled the country a few weeks ago, local journalists said.
âThe judgeâs decision to suspend Le DĂ©mocrate for one year and the prison sentences given to Ferdinand Samba and Patrick Agoundou were politically motivated in order to silence critical voices,â said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. âWe call on the appeals court to reverse Sambaâs jail sentence and urge authorities to free Samba immediately.â
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