CPJ condemns attacks on private newspapers

New York, July 26, 2005—Pro-government militia forcibly disrupted the distribution of private newspapers around the administrative capital Abidjan yesterday, threatening the papers and forcing some to evacuate their premises, according to local sources. Two dailies, Le Nouveau Réveil and Dernière Heure, failed to publish today.

Monday morning, militia known as Young Patriots entered Edipresse, the sole distributor of private newspapers, saying that pro-opposition papers were forbidden, CPJ sources said. They proceeded to destroy hundreds of copies, including those of the dailies Le Patriote, 24 Heures, Le Jour Plus, Le Front, Nord-Sud Quotidien, Dernières Nouvelles d’Abidjan, Le Nouveau Réveil, and Dernière Heure.

A number of the newspapers and their journalists received threats that their headquarters would be burned down and their staff killed, according to CPJ sources. Several editors appealed to United Nations forces and the government to provide security. The U.N. said their troops were overextended in other areas of the country and the government authorities promised help, but have so far failed to provide any, the editors said.

Additional groups of Young Patriots threatened and attacked newsvendors at major sales points in the city, CPJ sources said. Some fighting broke out, and papers were destroyed.

The incidents followed a speech on Sunday by Young Patriots leader Charles Blé Goudé, who called for a ban on pro-opposition newspapers and blamed rebel and opposition forces for two violent episodes late Saturday, in which unidentified assailants attacked a police station in a northern suburb of Abidjan and briefly seized the town of Agboville, according to international sources.

“The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by this new wave of attacks on the press in Ivory Coast,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on President Laurent Gbagbo to publicly denounce the threats and violence against private newspapers and to ensure that all journalists can work without fear of reprisal.”

Last November, during a political crisis, the Young Patriots attacked some of the same papers. The militia torched the offices of Le Patriote and 24 Heures, disrupting publication and causing the papers to relocate temporarily.