March 28, 2000
President Robert Gueï
Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Via Fax: (225) 20 32 90 77
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by several serious, recent press freedom violations in Côte d’Ivoire. Upon seizing power in December 1999, Your Excellency promised that freedom of expression would be respected. Since then, however, soldiers close to the ruling National Public Salvation Committee (CNSP) have conducted raids on several Abidjan-based publications.
On February 5, a dozen armed soldiers raided the offices of the independent daily Le Jeune Democrate. The soldiers, who did not have a warrant, occupied the offices for four hours and roughed up its editorial staff. The soldiers warned the journalists against reporting “garbage” about Your Excellency and about Allassane Dramane Ouattara, leader of the Rally of Republicans party.
They were apparently looking for Laurent Nahounou, the author of an article about allegations of an impending coup against Your Excellency that had appeared the same day in Le Jeune Democrate. The article in question quoted Mouassi Gréna, an army commander close to the CNSP, who had publicly accused three prominent opposition figures of conspiring with the family of deposed former president Henri Konan Bedié to overthrow Your Excellency.
On February 10, armed soldiers raided the offices of Le National, a daily newspaper known for its pro-Bedié editorial line, and arrested six journalists in connection with an article published that same day under the headline “How ADO Misled General Gueï.” The report alleged that Allassane Dramane Ouattara (ADO) has considerable influence on Your Excellency’s government. The staff members taken into custody were reporters David Bogui and Maxime Wengué; editors Rasis Paccola and Pierre Lemauvais; photographer Solange Baka, and a sales agent named Nguessan. They were all released three hours later.
On March 5, three armed soldiers led by Major Issa Touré invaded the newsroom of the private daily Soir Info and asked to speak with reporters Alain Bouabré and Claude Daassé. The soldiers, who did not have a warrant, said they had come to question the two reporters about a March 4 article on a strike of wood-cutters employed by Scieries du Bandama, a state-owned business located in Oume, in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire.
In the article, Bouabré and Daassé called on the government to mediate between the company and its employees, who were protesting inadequate salary and work conditions. In the absence of Bouabré and Daassé, the soldiers interrogated Ferro Bi, publisher of Soir Info, for more than an hour about what they called his newspaper’s hidden political agenda.
On March 7, the same soldiers showed up at the Abidjan home of journalist Daassé and subjected his wife to an illegal interrogation about her husband’s political ties and whereabouts.
Most recently, on March 24, a group of ten soldiers who are collectively known as “La Camora” stormed the premises of Le National and manhandled its staff. This attack was apparently prompted by an editorial that had appeared in Le National that same day. Titled “For The People,” the piece criticized Your Excellency’s ruling style.
Under the command of Corporal Moussa Traoré, the soldiers shot three times in the air and shouted anti-media slurs before forcing their way into the newspaper’s offices, where they ordered a dozen journalists to perform a series of push-ups. The raid lasted for two hours, during which the journalists were repeatedly threatened with death. According to sources in Abidjan, Corporal Traoré and his armed companions told the journalists, “We can kill you and nothing will happen.”
As a non-partisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, CPJ reminds Your Excellency that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants all people, including journalists, the right to seek, receive, and circulate information freely. We therefore urge Your Excellency to ensure that all Côte d’Ivoire journalists, regardless of their political affiliation, may carry out their professional duty without fear of reprisal.
Ann K. Cooper