Army head threatens closure of newspapers

New York, August 25, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by a threat by the head of Ivory Coast’s armed forces to ban newspapers that fail to work “in the interests of the nation.”

General Philippe Mangou summoned local journalists on Wednesday and told them to check their sources and avoid hate speech. He also warned them to be patriotic, according to local and international news reports.

“Otherwise, we will have to assume our responsibilities and close those newspapers that continue to be apologists for violence and for the rebellion,” Mangou said.
He also called for a press blackout of statements by dissident army officers Mathias Doué and Jules Yao Yao, who have called for the removal of President Laurent Gbagbo.
At the same meeting, Republican Guard commander Dogbo Blé Brunot told journalists, “Ivory Coast is at war, and when a country is at war, even in so-called developed democracies, there is no freedom of the press.”

Ivory Coast has been divided between a rebel-held north and government-held south since 2002, with UN and French troops trying to oversee an uneasy peace.

“We are deeply concerned that these threatening statements from the military could fuel attacks and threats against journalists, which are already all too frequent in Ivory Coast,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “While it is important for all the Ivorian press to respect journalism ethics, especially during this sensitive pre-election period, it is not the role of the army to ban or censor newspapers.”

The rebels said today they would boycott a planned October 30 presidential election aimed at reunifying the country, Reuters reported from the rebel stronghold of Bouake. The rebels said Gbagbo had skewed key legislation on citizenship and nationality to ensure his victory and exclude from the vote many of their supporters in the north.

Private media outlets and individual journalists continue to be threatened and attacked. Eddy Péhé, editor of pro-opposition daily Le Nouveau Réveil, told CPJ that he had recently received death threats over the phone from anonymous callers who accused him of supporting the rebels. Péhé said he believed the threats were related to his work. He said he had informed government and UN authorities but that nothing had been done so far to ensure his security.

In July, a pro-government militia known as the Young Patriots disrupted distribution of private newspapers, including Le Nouveau Réveil, and threatened staff. Last November, during a political crisis, the Young Patriots attacked some of the same papers. The militia torched the offices of private newspapers Le Patriote and 24 Heures, disrupting publication and causing the papers to relocate temporarily.