June 28, 2000
President Robert Gueï
Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Via Fax: (225) 20 32 90 77
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely disturbed by your regime’s plans to tighten state control over the press in Côte d’Ivoire.
According to CPJ’s sources in Abidjan, Information Minister Captain Henri Cesar Sama announced on June 23 that the ruling National Public Salvation Committee (CNSP) would soon release a list of measures designed to block the publication of any information “likely to negatively affect the credibility of journalists, national security and social peace.”
Captain Sama, who replaced journalist Levy Niamkey as information minister on May 19, called on journalists to refrain from becoming “the extended arm of politicians with dubious goals.” The minister added that he “would not hesitate to make use of the law which provides a spate of punishments for journalists who deliberately … compromise national security.”
Hours after the Information Ministry released 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 snatches 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.
If the government carries out this ill-considered plan, censorship will soon be institutionalized in the Côte d’Ivoire. Your Excellency has announced plans to hold general elections in the fall of 2000. In light of Captain Sama’s statement, however, we are concerned that journalists will be prevented from freely covering these elections, thus reducing the chances that the Ivorian people will be able to make an informed electoral choice.
When Your Excellency seized power last December, you vowed that “press freedom will be total” in the Côte d’Ivoire. Today, your government ranks among Africa’s worst press freedom offenders. In the past six months, 21 journalists have been beaten, harassed, or illegally detained, according to CPJ’s research. Soldiers under your command have raided local newsrooms, and detained and tortured reporters accused of bias against Your Excellency or other military and state officials.
On April 9, in one of the most disturbing cases documented by CPJ, two soldiers kidnapped reporter Jules Toualy of the private daily Le Jeune Democrate and tortured him for several hours. The attack resulted from an April 8 article in which Toualy alleged 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 Your Excellency’s regime.
Most recently, on May 16, soldiers abducted two reporters and a female 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 Your Excellency’s wife of using state funds to cover costs for her personal trips.
In light of the information minister’s June 23 statement, CPJ fears that state-sponsored press-freedom violations are becoming the norm in the Côte d’Ivoire, in clear disregard for Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grants all people, including journalists, the right to free expression. We therefore urge Your Excellency to give public assurances that the measures announced by Captain Sama will not be implemented, and that all journalists in Côte d’Ivoire will be able to work freely without fear of reprisal.
We await your comments.
Ann K. Cooper