The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the assassination of veteran French correspondent Jean Hélène from Radio France Internationale (RFI) by a policeman in Abidjan as a “shocking and savage attack on press freedom.”
“This killing is a chilling reminder to the world that the struggle for human rights and democracy in the Ivory Coast is far from over,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
Hélène was killed yesterday outside a police station while awaiting the release of opposition party activists, who had been detained last week on suspicion of plotting assassination attempts. Mr. Hélène first reported about the militants' disappearance earlier this week
Eyewitnesses reported that a policeman came into the station where the party activists were being released and told the senior police officer there was a "white man" outside. He was told the man was a journalist, and was expected. The policeman left the building and a shot was heard afterwards. Some people went outside and saw a body lying in the road by a car and blood on the ground. They ran into the building to tell the senior officer, who disarmed the policeman, saying: "You have created a major problem for us."
“This criminal act of brutality by local authorities cuts deep into the heart of journalism and press rights in the region,” said White. “This singling out of journalists will not bring peace and stability, but will only deepen the crisis in the country.”
President Laurent Gbagbo, Prime Minister Seydou Diarra and the French ambassador visited the scene of the shooting late on Tuesday. Gbagbo said he was launching an immediate enquiry. Officials said a policeman was being held.
Ever since civil war exploded last year in the former French colony, Gbagbo supporters in particular have accused foreign media and French radio and TV channels of pro-rebel bias and some have been criticised by the local press.
Gbagbo supporters blame the French, who have 4,000 troops in the West African country, for not doing enough to beat back the rebels, while the rebels accuse the French of propping up Gbagbo's administration.
There were violent anti-French demonstrations in January after warring factions signed a Paris-brokered peace deal and some French businesses were attacked during riots this month.
The IFJ organised safety training for Ivorian journalists in November 2002 at the onset of the civil war. (Safety training for Ivorian journalists - November 2002)
The IFJ is urging Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to stand by his promise to conduct a thorough and immediate investigation into the killing of Hélène. “The safety of both foreign and local journalists has to be protected in order to avoid creating a culture of impunity in this region,” said White.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries