Civil Activists Call on President Touadera to Protect Central African Journalists Against Foreign Influence

Several civil society leaders and activists from the Central African Republic (CAR) have penned a letter dated April 30th to President Faustin Archange Touadera, urging him to protect the freedom of opinion, speech, and press in the country.

What You Need to Know:

According to pro-Russian outlet, Radio Lengo Songo, one of the signatories stated, “As a Central African citizen and leader of civil society, I am proud of our cultural diversity and our inter-community harmony. This is why we will not allow foreign interests to sow discord and cause tensions between our different communities. It is our duty to preserve the peace and stability of our nation. It is in this context that we are sending this open letter to President Touadera to ensure respect for the principles of transparency, objectivity, and pluralism in the field of information.”

Interestingly, Radio Lengo Songo titled their piece on the letter “Activists call on President Touadera to protect Central African journalists against US influence.” The content of the letter, however, makes no mention of the US and instead refers to ‘foreign powers.’

According to Freedom House, the Central African Republic is ‘not free’ and “suffers from pervasive insecurity and an absence of state authority in much of the country. Violent attacks against civilians, including sexual violence, are an acute risk in many areas. There is little support for independent journalists, and workers with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), particularly aid workers, operate at great personal risk.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also stated that “journalists and media organizations [in the CAR] are caught between armed groups and the authorities. The government’s rapprochement with Russia has coincided with a significant spread of disinformation.”

The letter states: “Freedom of expression and speech are among the most important human rights and freedoms in a democratic state. This right is enshrined in international human rights laws as well as in most constitutions of different countries around the world.

Recently, a trend towards ‘fake news’ and the financing of certain Central African media outlets by foreign powers has been observed. This trend aims to destabilize the political and social system of the Central African Republic and to foment interreligious and inter-ethnic conflicts.

We, Central Africans, media professionals, and representatives of civil society, address the President of the Central African Republic, the Central African government, and the deputies of the nation. We demand the protection of freedom of opinion, speech, and press in the Central African Republic, as well as guaranteed protection against foreign influence on certain Central African media aimed at destabilizing the situation in the CAR.”

The Details:

Entering the Central African Republic in 2018, through the provision of military aid after a UN arms embargo was lifted, Russia has cemented itself among the country’s political elite, particularly with President Touadera.

The Russian state has conducted various disinformation campaigns, with one in late April attempting to frame a US diplomat from the US embassy in Bangui through social media posts of a ‘leaked’ phone call in which the diplomat allegedly offered to finance opposition protests in the capital.

Aside from disinformation campaigns, the Kremlin utilizes Wagner Group (now renamed the Africa Corps) linked businesses to extract resources from the country to circumvent western sanctions. Most recently, the US Treasury Department sanctioned two companies, one based in the CAR and one in St. Petersburg for ‘advancing Russian malign activities in Africa.’

So, What Now?:

Russia’s influence in the Central African Republic has heavily increased in recent years. As a result, independent journalists, aid workers, and diplomats are targeted through disinformation campaigns, government intimidation, and threats from Private Military Company personnel. It is likely this letter intended to shed light on just how enmeshed the Kremlin has become with the Central African Republic’s government, although how effective it is in bringing change to the nation’s media environment is yet to be seen.

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.

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