IFJ Condemns Journalists’ Intimidation by Public Prosecutor in Ivory Coast

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today warned that officials in the Ivory Coast are intimidating journalists and damaging press freedom after cases launched by the public prosecutor put two journalists in prison and two more were summoned by police for questioning.

“We condemn this wave of intimidation of journalists through these illegal imprisonments,” said Gabriel Baglo, Director of IFJ Africa Office. “We call for the withdrawal of the prosecution against the journalists and that the Public prosecutor lets the media self-regulatory bodies of the country deal with this kind of issue, which they already do well.”

Le Nouveau Réveil newspaper editor Denis Kah Zion and journalist Andre Silver Konan were summoned Tuesday morning to a police station where they were questioned about an article published on February 21 about the president’s political party, FPI. The article was entitled “FPI management of the power in 7 years, the hundred exclusive ‘crimes’' of Gbagbo”.

According to Patrice Yao, Le Nouveau Réveil’s editor-in-chief, before bringing them to trial the prosecutor suggested the journalists make a public apology that would be broadcast on national radio and television. The journalists refused this deal. Prosecutor Tchimou Raymond then ordered the journalists to be imprisoned for 6 hours. They are now supposed to appear before the prosecutor on Friday to face charges of “offending the Head of State”.

Also on Tuesday, L’Inter newspaper editor-in-chief Charles d' Almeida and journalist Hippolyte Oulaï were summoned by Prosecutor Tchimou. The editor-in-chief, on mission abroad was represented by editor JMK Ahoussou. The journalists were briefly questioned about an article published two weeks before, which said that the president was secretly involved in a deal with the company blamed for dumping toxic waste dumped near the capital Abidjan last year.

Ivory Coasts’ media organizations, including the National Association of the Journalists of Ivory Coast (UNJCI) and National Trade union of the Private Press Agents of Ivory Coast (SYNAPPCI), have issued a joint declaration reminding the public prosecutor that journalists cannot be imprisoned for slander according a law that went into effect in December 2004. Despite the law, the prosecutor has been jailing journalists for various reasons, seriously damaging media independence in the country.

Last January, journalist Claude Dassé, who works for daily newspaper Soir Info, was jailed for 5 days following a complaint by the public prosecutor of “contempt of court”. In September 2006, Le Jour Plus newspaper editor Coulibaly Seydou and journalist Edouard Gonto, were held in custody for 24 hours for “offending the President of the Republic” after the newspaper published an article critical of the president’s wife.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries