Central African Republic - Newspaper association's president begins second week in prison

    MONTREAL, March 20 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders today
condemned the continuing pretrial detention of Michel Alkhaly-Ngady, the head
of the Group of Central African Privately-Owned and Independent Press Editors
(GEPPIC), whose arrest on 12 March appears to have been the result of a
refusal by GEPPIC and two other media groups to accept the authority of the
High Council for Communication (HCC). His trial should have taken place
yesterday but was postponed until 26 March.
    "If all this is indeed due to a dispute between various entities, then
there are absolutely no grounds for holding him and we call for his immediate
release," the press freedom organisation said. "The HCC appears to have chosen
Alkhaly-Ngady, who is now entering his second week behind bars, as a scapegoat
to intimidate the media groups that accuse it of not being sufficiently
independent of the government."
    Reporters Without Borders added: "After the Central African Republic
decriminalized press offences at the end of 2004, it would be regrettable if
this trial and the lack of transparency surrounding this case were to set us
back several years."
    Alkhaly-Ngady, who is also the publisher of the Temps Nouveaux newspaper,
was arrested in Bangui on 12 March as a result of an HCC complaint. He was
taken before prosecutors on 15 March and place in pretrial custody on a charge
of "obstructing the law and the republic's institutions," namely the HCC.
    He is alleged to have encouraged the publisher of the weekly Le
Centrafricain not to comply with a four-issue suspension imposed by the HCC as
a punishment for a series of articles it considered "dangerous." In January,
the GEPPIC, the Union of Central African Journalists (JSCA) and the Central
African Media Monitoring Body (OMCA) condemned the appointment by President
François Bozizé of two of the HCC's members, and since then have refused to
recognise its authority.
    A request by Alkhaly-Ngady's lawyers for his provisional release was
rejected and the trial was postponed until 26 March on the grounds that the
presiding judge had not seen the case file. As a result, Alkhaly-Ngady is
going to spend a second week in Bangui's Ngaragba prison. Reporters Without
Borders hails the local media's decision not to publish yesterday in
solidarity with Alkhaly-Ngady.

    Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press
freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium,
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has
representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has
more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Canadian office representative,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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