New York, June 28, 2000-The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely disturbed by plans announced by the military government of the Côte D’Ivoire to tighten control over the editorial content of local newspapers and other media outlets.
On June 23, according to CPJ sources in Abidjan, Information Minister Captain Henri Cesar Sama announced that the ruling National Public Salvation Committee (CNSP) would soon release measures designed to curtail the publication of any information “likely to negatively affect the credibility of journalists, national security and social peace.”
Capt. Sama accused local newspapers of being “opposition mouthpieces” and said that he “would not hesitate to make use of the law which provides a spate of punishments for journalists who deliberately … compromise national security” through their reporting.
Promise that ‘press freedom will be total’
“Upon seizing power last December, President Robert Gueï promised that ‘press freedom will be total’ in the Ivory Coast,” said CPJ Africa program coordinator Yves Sorokobi. “Captain Sama’s June 23 statement is most disturbing because it suggests that censorship will soon be institutionalized in that country.”
Hours after the release of Captain Sama’s statement, the state-operated Radiodiffusion Television Ivoirienne (RTI) network pulled a TV commercial for the opposition Rally of Republicans (RDR) party off the air on the grounds that it contained bits of “misleading, mystic and Nazi” music. Ivorian journalists contacted by CPJ, however, said the commercial in question contained no music at all, but did show RDR leader Allassane Ouattara addressing a crowd of supporters in a stadium.
Sorokobi said, “The government of the Côte D’Ivoire currently ranks among Africa’s worst press freedom offenders. Despite President Gueï’s promise to respect press freedom, conditions have gravely deteriorated for journalists, who continue to suffer under military oppression.”
Soldiers close to the ruling CNSP routinely raid local newsrooms and detain and torture reporters deemed guilty of bias against President Gueï or other military and state officials. On April 9, for example, two soldiers kidnapped reporter Jules Toualy of the private daily Le Jeune Democrate, and tortured him for several hours in retaliation for an April 8 article alleging that six foreign mercenaries had been arrested for helping to instigate a March 28 mutiny at a military base in Daloa, 80 miles northwest of Abidjan, with the goal of overthrowing President Gueï’s regime.
On May 16, soldiers abducted two reporters and a photographer from the daily La Reference and drove them to the junta’s headquarters, where they were beaten and made to perform push-ups for several hours. This treatment was apparently meted out in reprisal for an article in the May 12 issue of La Reference that accused President Gueï’s wife of using state funds to cover costs for her personal trips.
In light of Captain Sama’s statements, CPJ is concerned that state-sponsored press freedom violations are becoming the norm in the Ivory Coast. CPJ has sent a letter to President Gueï, urging him to give public assurances that the measures announced by Captain Sama do not see the light of day and asking him to guarantee that all journalists working in Côte D’Ivoire are free to carry out their professional duties without fear of reprisal.