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Rights Groups Condemn Detention of CAR Editor

In the Central African Republic, a newspaper association president has been jailed without trial for two weeks. His trial was to be held Monday, but has been delayed. Kari Barber reports from VOA's bureau in Dakar that media rights groups are condemning the detention and the trial delay.

Newspaper association president Michel Alkhaly-Ngady remains in jail this week after his scheduled trial was postponed until March 26 on the grounds that the judge had not had a chance to review the case file.

Alkhaly-Ngady was arrested in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, on March 12 following a complaint by the nation's High Council for Communication that he obstructed the law and government institutions.

Local journalists say Alkhaly-Ngady was involved in a power struggle with the council over media rights.

Relations between journalists and the media-governing council have been strained since January, when many journalists criticized the new members appointed to the council. Media groups have accused the independent council of being too close to the government.

Vincent Brossel, of the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, says the government may be holding Alkhaly-Ngady to pressure other journalists not to oppose the council's decisions.

"We know that there is a conflict," he said. "We know that there is a problem. But it is not the solution to put him behind bars. It gives the impression the government is unable to maintain a peaceful agreement between the private media and the government."

The Central African Republic passed a law in 2004 abolishing prison sentences for press offenses.

Brossel says in the past, media in the Central African Republic were relatively free although there were some instances of government interference. He says the media's problems have more often been financial.

The Central African Republic is an impoverished nation with high illiteracy rates.

"The main problem is the fact that the newspapers and the media in general do not have many readers, readership or viewers," said Brossel. "There is a huge limitation on economic resources. But it is true that the government has tried to intervene several times in the past."

Communication council officials were unavailable for comment at the time of this report.

Many local media organizations in the country chose not to publish Monday to show their support for Alkhaly-Ngady.