Central African Republic authorities should investigate threatening messages sent to journalist Erick Ngaba and ensure his safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
Since June 14, Ngaba, managing editor of the privately owned Ndjoni Sango newspaper, has received about 20 threating messages in WhatsApp groups where he is a member and through Facebook Live broadcasts, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ over the phone.
The messages included threats to “take care” of the journalist, as well as accusations that Ngaba was a traitor to the Central Africa Republic, according to the journalist and screenshots of the messages, which CPJ reviewed.
“Central African Republic authorities should investigate the threats made against journalist Erick Ngaba and ensure his safety,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in Durban, South Africa. “The security situation in the Central African Republic is worrisome enough for media professionals without additional online harassment.”
In one WhatsApp message reviewed by CPJ, Kenny Yamba, a spokesperson for the opposition Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC) political party threatened to “personally take care of you to avenge my father.”
Ngaba told CPJ that the MLPC refers to its leader, Martin Ziguelé, as “father,” and that he had recently covered an alleged power dispute within the MPLC involving Ziguelé.
Reached by phone, Yamba did not deny sending the message, and told CPJ, “We do not treat them [reporters like Ngaba] as journalists but as propagandists.”
‘’Our role is to defend our leader without hesitation,” he added, accusing Ngaba of attacking Ziguelé and the MPLC in his reporting, specifically citing a June 13 article in Ndjoni Sango alleging that members of the MLPC had decided to remove Ziguelé from power.
Ngaba told CPJ that the accounts sending threatening messages also featured content that showed they were loyal to Ziguelé.
In one Facebook post on June 19, a user named Anthony Odom, whose Facebook profile says he lives in France, called Ngaba a ‘’friend of the occupier” and “traitor,” and accused him of serving the interests of the Russian Wagner mercenary group in the CAR. Yamba told CPJ that Odom was a member of the MPLC’s communication team.
Ziguelé himself also reshared several messages criticizing Ngaba, and calling him an “apprentice journalist,” which CPJ reviewed.
‘’They are doing it openly. They are not using avatars but their own accounts and the [MLPC] party’s communication channels,” Ngaba told CPJ, noting that many of the threatening messages had been shared on the personal Facebook pages of MLPC officials.
Reached by phone, Ziguelé told CPJ that he had not asked anyone to attack Ngaba, but acknowledged that MPLC officials based in France had “called him [Ngaba] to order” over that June 13 article.
Ziguelé said he personally asked the people on his communications team to stop “arguing with Ngaba” because it “doesn’t help anyone.”
Ngaba said he plans to file a complaint against Ziguelé and the MLPC with the public prosecutor.