Two French journalists working for Agence France-Presse ( AFP ) in the Central African Republic were brutally arrested and their equipment confiscated or destroyed on Saturday during the dispersal of an opposition demonstration in Bangui, banned by the authorities.
The two AFP correspondents in the Central African Republic, Charles Bouessel (28) and Florent Vergnes (30), said they were detained for more than six hours and heard three times, after being arrested and beaten several times by members. of the Central African Office for the Suppression of Banditry ( OCRB ).
Accredited to work in this country, the two journalists were arrested Saturday around 15:00 (14:00 GMT ).
They were first detained by the OCRB and then transferred to the premises of the Directorate of Judicial Police Services ( DSPJ ) in Bangui, according to diplomatic sources, the Central African Minister of Justice, and the two journalists of AFP. .
“The demonstration was going well, the CRS let us film and saw that we were outside the procession”, testified Charles Bouessel, confirming the version of the other journalist of AFP , Florent Vergnes.
“The protesters were dispersed quickly. OCRB pickups have arrived. We heard live ammunition “.
“With Florent we are trying to leave (…). The OCRB sees us and seems angry that we filmed the scene, they rush on us, “he added. “One of them catches my camera and smashes it on the floor. I put my hands in the air but I take a first slap in the head. My backpack (where I have my papers, passport, credit card, press accreditation …) is torn off and thrown to the ground. I ask to take it, as well as the debris from my device but I only get blows. ”
“We are taken to the reception of the OCRB , where I am told to empty my pockets to notify what I have on me at the beginning of the custody. I explain to them that I have nothing, the cops took everything from me, it does not interest them, and it is surely lost, they say to me.
“We are released at 8:48 pm, I have no papers, no money, no phone. The police propose to bring us back but ask 10.000 francs (15 euros)for gasoline”, Continues Charles Bouessel.
Conviction of RSF
For his part, Florent Vergnes claimed to have “been belted by the throat” and having “taken donuts, kicks of Kalashnikov in the back”. “They snatched my bag, my camera and my phone” during the arrest.
“I bled my nose and my back and jaw hurt,” added Florent Vergnes, who had his injuries recorded by a doctor in Bangui Sunday morning.
“This day, he has a large right temporal hematoma, a hematoma on the right scapula, a hematoma on the base of the nose and a pain on the left temporomandibular joint and a disorder of the dental articulate”, according to the terms of the medical certificate.
Florent Vergnes pointed out that at the time of his arrest, he had reported being duly accredited: “I told them that I was a journalist and that I was accredited, they told me call your minister”.
According to the Minister of Justice, Flavien Mbata, the two journalists “were arrested by the police because they were present at the scene of a demonstration prohibited by the police.”
“We asked them to be released yesterday (Saturday), which was done. Tomorrow (Monday), when we will have all the elements and the minutes, we will decide on the continuation of the procedure “, added the minister, joined by the AFP of Libreville.
Reporters Without Borders RSF ) has “condemned the aggression” of the two correspondents of AFP . “This abuse should not go unpunished,” the NGO wrote Sunday on Twitter.
In the latest RSF world press freedom index , the Central African Republic ranks 145th out of 180.