Freedom of the Press
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Central African Republic
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Until it was suspended in the wake of the March coup d'etat that brought Army commander Francois Bozize to power, the constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, even though this right had often been brutally restricted by previous regimes. Citing the country's harsh press laws, the deposed government of President Ange-Felix Patasse frequently targeted outspoken journalists for forced exile, arbitrary detentions, and legal and physical harassment. In a country plagued by chronic instability, the press was nearly unanimous in its support for the coup d'etat by Bozize, who released from unlawful detention opposition figures, journalists, and free speech advocates jailed by the Patasse government. The new regime has planned a constitutional referendum and general elections for late 2004, to which the private press has been assured unfettered access, a privilege routinely denied it by the ousted regime. In addition, official press conferences are now open to all journalists. In the fall, the new Bozize government slated a "National Dialogue" whose final recommendations included a revision of the press laws, the establishment of an independent media regulatory body, and the creation of a university-level journalism curriculum. Even so, there were instances of police harassment of news professionals. The judiciary, still relying on punitive press laws enacted under Patasse, sentenced at least one journalist to prison for his work. In November, a group of private journalists and editors began a push to convince the authorities of the necessity to decriminalize press offenses. Nevertheless, hope was slim that the press laws would be improved or scrapped in the near future, and self-censorship among journalists appeared to be on the rise.