The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged by Thursday's violent attacks on four private newspapers in Abidjan, and by a government ban against eight newspapers. These grave attacks on press freedom came as hostilities resumed in the rebel-held north of the country. We are also alarmed at the silencing of three international radio stations in Abidjan, reportedly by an act of sabotage.
On Thursday afternoon, gangs of more than 100 armed youths attacked private dailies Le Patriote, 24 Heures, Le Nouveau Réveil and Le Libéral Nouveau, looting and destroying equipment and documents, according to local sources and international news reports. They set fire to the premises of Le Patriote, 24 Heures and Le Libéral Nouveau, which were badly damaged. CPJ sources said they believe the attackers were "Young Patriots," militia loyal to Your Excellency's Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI) party. All four newspapers managed to evacuate staff, and no one was hurt.
Sources at Le Patriote said the youths arrived in two buses of the Ivoirian public transport company and tried to break down the newspaper's metal door. It was at this point that the staff managed to escape. Employees at other newspapers were able to escape thanks to warnings from their colleagues at Le Patriote. However, staff at these newspapers say they have received threats accusing them of supporting the rebels and opposition, and that they fear for their safety. None of these newspapers are currently able to publish, owing to the damage to their premises and equipment.
Also on Thursday, a number of newspapers considered sympathetic to the opposition were banned from distribution in the government-held south, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP) and local sources. AFP quoted a military source as saying this was a "restraining measure against these pro-rebel newspapers in conjunction with movements on the ground." CPJ sources said a government official had delivered a list of eight banned newspapers to the distribution company Edipresse: Le Patriote, 24 Heures, le Nouveau Réveil, le Libéral Nouveau, Le Front, Ivoire Matin, Le Journal des Journeaux and Le Jour Plus.
On Thursday, Your Excellency's government launched military air strikes on rebel positions in the north of the country, ending a ceasefire that has been in force since 2003. Ivory Coast remains divided between the government-controlled south and rebel-held north, despite a fragile 2003 peace deal.
Early Thursday, unidentified elements sabotaged the FM transmitters of international radio stations Radio France Internationale (RFI), BBC and Africa No. 1, silencing their FM broadcasts in Abidjan. Their transmitters are based in the same location. AFP quoted a reliable source as saying that seven unidentified people entered the transmitter location in the Plateau district of Abidjan at 2 a.m. local time on Thursday. After overwhelming the guard, this group removed frequency modulation cards that allow the FM broadcasts, AFP said.
This is not the first time that these transmitters have been sabotaged during national crises. For example, the same radio stations went off the air on March 25 at the time of a banned opposition demonstration during which government forces killed at least 120 people, according to the United Nations. Broadcasts resumed a few days later, but Ivoirian authorities gave no explanation.
CPJ condemns these attacks in the strongest terms, and considers them grave violations of press freedom. We call on Your Excellency to publicly denounce violence against the press, and to do all in your power to rein in the armed militias who carry out such attacks in your name. We also call on your government to lift the ban on eight private newspapers, and to take all possible steps to ensure that journalists can carry out their work in Ivory Coast without fear of reprisal.
We thank you for your attention in this urgent matter. We await your reply.