September 13, 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 the continued brutal persecution of journalists who criticize you and the activities of your military government. We are particularly alarmed at the recent beating of Joachim Beugré, editor of the private daily Le Jour, by three soldiers under your command.
Beugré and his publisher, Diegou Bailly, were summoned to the presidential palace in Abidjan on the afternoon of September 8, according to CPJ sources in Côte d’Ivoire. Your Excellency interrogated the two journalists personally and pressed them to reveal their sources for an article about your parentage that had appeared in that day’s edition of Le Jour.
Published under Beugré’s byline, the article pointed out that your surname is different from the father’s surname that appears on your birth certificate. Le Jour published a copy of the birth certificate to support Beugré’s argument.
Bailly was released without charge, according to local press reports confirmed by CPJ sources, after you explained to him that in your tribe a son does not take his father’s surname. The matter did not end there, however. Acting on Your Excellency’s orders, three soldiers drove Beugré to his Abidjan home, which they searched without warrant. The soldiers then took the journalist to an open field near Abidjan International Airport, beat him savagely, and threatened even harsher retribution if he continued to report “maliciously” about you and the military junta. Beugré spent four days in hospital recuperating from his injuries.
Later on Sept. 8, Information Minister Captain Henri-Cesar Sama summoned all Abidjan-based publishers and editors-in-chief to his office and ordered them to stop covering the activities of the Army and the ruling National Public Salvation Committee (CNSP). The minister claimed that negative media coverage had “weakened the CNSP,” and added that “civilians would be the first to suffer” if the junta was destabilized as a result of bad press.
Meanwhile, National Union of Côte d’Ivoire Journalists president Honoré Dé Yedagne, who interviewed Your Excellency shortly after the attack on Beugré, quoted you as saying that as far as you were concerned, “human rights no longer existed in Côte d’Ivoire,” and that you were not responsible for the behavior of your soldiers.
CPJ condemns all such reckless statements by you and other high-ranking junta officers, which have contributed to the degradation of press freedom in Côte d’Ivoire since you seized power last December. Moreover, you have shown little interest in reversing this trend. On July 5, in fact, one day after the banning of the popular independent station Radio Nostalgie, you publicly threatened local journalists with severe punishment for alleged “bias” and “distortion of facts” in their reporting.
CPJ condemns in the strongest terms your interrogation of journalists Diegou Bailly and Joachim Beugré, and we hold you directly responsible for the abuse that Beugré suffered from soldiers under your command. As an organization of journalists devoted to defending press freedom around the world, we urge you to cease using brute force to stifle legitimate criticism of your government.
Ann K. Cooper