Magazine article New African

The Horse and the Jockey. (around Africa - Gabon/France)

Magazine article New African

The Horse and the Jockey. (around Africa - Gabon/France)

Article excerpt

A French court has ruled that foreign heads of state cannot automatically demand that books they disapprove of, be banned, seized or destroyed in France. Until now, an 1881 law, stated that a book published in France, portraying a foreign head of state in an unflattering light could be seized and destroyed, its author brought before the courts, fined and possibly imprisoned.

"It is no longer conceivable that we accord to foreign heads of state a status, exorbitant with regard to the freedom of expression, which allows them to forbid all critical examination of their behaviour," the court said.

The decision was taken with regard to a critical study of Francophone Africa -- Noir Silence: Qui arretera la Francafrique?", (Black Silence: Who Will Stop French Africa?) published by Editions des Arenesl, and written by Francois-Xavier Verschave.

Three of Francophone Africa's best-known presidents -- Omar Bongo of Gabon, Denis SassouNguesso of Congo-Brazzaville (who doubles as the son-in-law of Bongo), and Idriss Deby of Chad -- attacked Verschave and his publisher -- claiming "offence against a foreign head of state". They demanded that portions of the book which mentioned them be removed, and that Verschave and his publishing house be fined FF300,000 ($40,000).

In handing down the decision, the court noted that "international law had evolved" since 1881, and that "in light of the existence of a much larger (international) community of values founded on the principle of human rights and recognised by all democratic regimes", there existed henceforth "a veritable right to examine the conditions under which people live [around the world] without any consideration of national boundaries."

The conclusions were especially annoying to Bongo, who in the 35 years as president of Gabon, had often made use of the Law of 1881 to silence critics of his regime. …

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