THE PRESS: 2009
• Main Index
• In African hot spots,
journalists forced into exile
• Other developments
A media law was enacted in January requiring government accreditation for journalists and establishing an official media regulatory body, according to news reports. In May, Botswana publishers filed complaints challenging the constitutionality of the act.
In February, CPJ urged President Blaise Compaoré’s government to investigate a series of death threats sent to independent journalists via Yahoo France e-mail accounts. The threats, some of which dated to 2007, referred to the unsolved 1998 murder of Norbert Zongo. The most recent threats were sent to the staff of the private monthly Le Reporter in January after it covered a financial scandal at the National Social Security Fund. Christophe Pelletier, a spokesman for Yahoo France, told CPJ that the company had alerted police. No arrests were made.
In June, a Yaoundé military court sentenced Jacques Blaise Mvié and Charles René Nwé, editors of the private weekly La Nouvelle, to five years in prison apiece in connection with stories critical of former Defense Minister Rémy Zé Meka, according to local journalists. The two were also fined 500,000 CFA francs (US$1,000) each. The minister objected to a number of stories, including reports about his handling of a purported coup attempt. The journalists told CPJ they were not notified of the charges and, thus, were not present at their own trial. They were free in late year pending appeal.
Jean Bosco Talla, editor of the private weekly Germinal in Yaoundé, said in June that he received anonymous telephone death threats that made reference to slain editor Norbert Zongo in Burkina Faso and missing reporter Guy-André Kieffer in Ivory Coast. The threats apparently stemmed from the weekly’s coverage of a human rights report that raised questions about the private wealth of President Paul Biya, according to local journalists.
The Communications Ministry ordered police to seal off the Yaoundé studios of Sky One Radio in August for unspecified violations of national media laws, according to news reports. The government imposed a six-month suspension on the station’s operations. The suspension appeared to be linked to the station’s daily call-in program, “The Tribunal,” during which listeners aired grievances concerning public services, according to local journalists.
A magistrate in Yaoundé sentenced Michel Mombio, editor of the biweekly L’Ouest Républicain, to 14 months in prison in connection with a column that was harshly critical of Scientific Research Minister Madeleine Tchuinté. The editor was also ordered to pay a fine of 1 million CFA francs (US$2,300) and damages of 5 million CFA francs (US$11,500), according to local journalists. Mombio, who had been jailed since September 2008, was released in November after having served the designated 14 months.
In June, a judge ordered the arrest of Rodrigo Angüe Nguema, a local correspondent for Agence France-Presse and Radio France Internationale, after he failed to post 20 million CFA francs (US$43,000) bail on libel charges, defense lawyer Fabián Nsue Nguema told CPJ. The charges related to an erroneous April story, which Nguema retracted, alleging embezzlement at the national airline. Nguema was acquitted of criminal charges in October and released from Black Beach Prison in the capital, Malabo. RFI and AFP were ordered to pay 40 million CFA francs (US$85,000) in civil damages to an airline executive, according to the press freedom group Journaliste en Danger.
Coverage of President Omar Bongo’s declining health and the related succession issues drew government reprisals. In May, the National Communication Council banned the monthly Ezombolo for six months and the satirical weekly Le Nganga for one month over articles speculating about infighting among Bongo’s advisers, according to local journalists. Days later, authorities barred reporters for the broadcaster France 24 from entering the country, claiming they had insufficient accreditation, one of the journalists, Arnaud Zajtman, told CPJ by e-mail. The episode occurred after the council accused France 24 and other French broadcasters of airing “unofficial and alarmist information regarding the president’s health,” according to Agence France-Presse. Bongo, the longest-serving African head of state, died the next month at the age of 73.
Military intelligence officers detained Albert Yangari, editor of the state daily L’Union for several hours on September 25. Officers questioned him about L’Union stories that contradicted the government’s account of deadly post-election riots in the city of Port-Gentil, according to news reports and local journalists. L’Union reported a higher number of fatalities than the government, and its stories raised questions as to whether troops used live ammunition in quelling the unrest. L’Union reporter Jonas Moulenda briefly went into hiding after reporting death threats, according to the same sources.
In November, the National Communication Council suspended six newspapers for “violating the ethics of journalism” and “inciting ethnic divisions” in their coverage of the presidential election that brought Ali Bongo to office to succeed his late father. The council suspended Nku’u Le Messager and Le Crocodile for one month; Le Scriboullard, L’Ombre, and La Nation for two months; and Echos du Nord for three months.
Security forces assaulted at least a dozen journalists trying to cover a September 28 opposition rally against junta leader Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara at a stadium in the capital, Conakry, local journalists told CPJ. Several reported their equipment had been seized or damaged. Security forces ultimately stormed the arena, killing dozens of people, according to local news reports. Six journalists for French broadcasters France 2 and France 24, who traveled to Guinea in October to cover the aftermath, were turned back because they lacked “a formal invitation,” according to Agence France-Presse. The United Nations dispatched a commission in late year to investigate the actions of the security forces.
Nanankoua Gnamantêh, op-ed editor of the pro-opposition private weekly Le Repère, was arrested in March after being questioned about an article critical of President Laurent Gbagbo, according to local journalists. The jailing appeared to violate the 2004 press law, which decriminalized press offenses and banned pretrial detention of journalists. After two weeks in pretrial detention, Gnamantêh and Managing Editor Eddy Péhé were convicted of “offending the head of state” and fined 20 million CFA francs (US$45,000) each. Le Repère was also suspended for eight editions.
On May 7, an appeals court in Abidjan granted bail to French freelance photojournalist Jean Paul Ney, who had been imprisoned on antistate charges since December 2007, according to defense lawyer Minta Traoré. In a March interview from prison with the French weekly L’Express, Ney said he was arrested while making a documentary about exiled coup leader Ibrahim Coulibaly. Once free on bail, Ney left the country.
A magistrate in Abidjan suspended the weekly newspaper Notre Défi for two months beginning in October after finding Editor Baté Mabo guilty of publishing “false news” in a story accusing the state prosecutor’s office of corruption, according to local journalists and news reports. Mabo, known by his pen name Jean Bedel, was also fined 5 million CFA francs (US$11,500).
On October 21, dozens of members of the National Union of University Students of Ivory Coast stormed the offices of the private media group Le Réveil, according to local journalists. The assailants objected to a story in one of Le Réveil’s publications that was critical of a former union leader. The assailants—some armed with clubs—threatened newsroom staff, damaged equipment, and roughed up employees, local journalists said.
Francis Nyaruri, a reporter for the private Weekly Citizen, was murdered in January in western Nyanza province. Nyaruri’s mutilated body was found in Kodera Forest two weeks after he went missing, according to local journalists. Two suspects were arrested in May but later released, the Weekly Citizen reported. The paper said Nyaruri had written a number of stories accusing high-ranking police officers of corruption. He had received several threats in response, local journalists told CPJ. The case’s lead investigator, Chief Inspector Robert Natwoli, and Nyaruri’s family lawyer, Andrew Mandi, both went into hiding in June after receiving threats, local journalists told CPJ.
In May, police shuttered the opposition-run Joy Radio and arrested two reporters and a technician on charges of violating election law by airing campaign messages within 48 hours of voting, according to local journalists. Presenters Mary Chande and Obrien Nazombe were held for four days by police while technician Adbulrazaaq Telela was released after a few hours, local journalists said. The station remained off the air for three weeks, which included the four-day voting period in May, the station’s lawyer, Jonathan Kara, told CPJ. The charge stemmed from the rebroadcast of a 2008 political program questioning government claims about the country’s food supply. In June, a magistrate in Blantyre ordered police to allow the station to re-open, according to local reports. A magistrate acquitted the journalists of all charges in September.
Ildefonso Muanantatha, governor of Tete province, issued public threats in March against Bernardo Carlos, a reporter for the private daily Noticias, according to news accounts. The threats, which included references to the 2000 murder of journalist Carlos Cardoso, were apparently linked to stories critical of the provincial government, news reports said. No charges were filed in connection with the threats.
South African police arrested convicted killer Anibal dos Santos Jr. in Johannesburg in August. The fugitive, convicted in the 2000 murder of investigative reporter Carlos Cardoso, had escaped from prison in December 2008. Dos Santos, better known as Anibalzinho, was returned to Mozambique to complete his 30-year sentence. He had escaped from prison and been recaptured twice before.
REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Bruno Jacquet Ossébi, a Franco-Congolese online journalist, died in a Brazzaville military hospital in February, 12 days after being severely burned in a mysterious fire that killed his girlfriend and her 8- and 10-year-old children in their home, according to news reports and CPJ research. Ossébi was known for his critical coverage of alleged government malfeasance and for publicizing an international lawsuit questioning the private wealth of the ruling families of Congo and other African nations. Two successive magistrates were appointed to investigate the cause of the fire, but no report or findings had been released by late year.
In February, the state-run High Council on Freedom of Communication ordered the private TV station Canal Bénédiction Plus off the air shortly after it ran footage of a 1991 national political convention that marked a transition from one-party rule to a multiparty democracy, according to local journalists. Council President Jacques Banaganzala accused the station of airing violent and abusive statements. The suspension was lifted in July, according to the press freedom group Journaliste en Danger.
The government suspended the BBC’s Kinyarwandan-language service in April, citing what it called bias in a program that was to be aired on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the BBC reported. The weekly program “Imvo n’imvano” (Analysis of the Source of the Problem) was to have featured a debate on forgiveness concerning the genocide, according to the Rwandan News Agency. Program Director Ally Mugenzi said the government objected to the comments of a former presidential candidate, Faustin Twagiramungu. The ban was lifted two months later on the condition that the station comply with government-set content guidelines, the Information Ministry said.
President Paul Kagame signed a new media law in August. An earlier version passed by parliament had been rejected by Kagame, who heeded media concerns that it contained education requirements for journalists, according to the Association of Rwandan Journalists. The final version, although seen as an improvement, contained repressive clauses, CPJ research showed. The law included vague language that allows authorities to prosecute journalists criminally for publishing material considered in “contempt to the head of state” or that “endangers public decency.” Journalists may still be prosecuted under the existing penal code, which continues to include provisions on defamation and privacy infringement that can lead to prison sentences.
In April, President Abdoulaye Wade pardoned imprisoned editor El Malick Seck of the daily 24 Heures Chrono. Seck was serving a three-year prison sentence over an editorial alleging the involvement of Wade and his son, Karim, in a money-laundering scandal, according to defense lawyer Demba Ciré Bathily. Seck served eight months of his sentence. Wade also pardoned 12 other individuals, including a driver and two bodyguards for former Transport Minister Farba Senghor, who were convicted of vandalizing the offices of 24 Heures Chrono and the newspaper L’As in August 2008, according to news reports.
In June, a criminal court judge sentenced editor Papa Samba Diarra and reporter Mame Sèye Diop of the newsweekly Weekend to three months in prison and fines of 10 million CFA francs each (US $21,657) on libel charges stemming from a story critical of a member of parliament, according to the Media Foundation of West Africa. The journalists appealed.
In September, a tribunal judge in Kaolack jailed reporters Papa Samba Sène of the private daily L’As and Abdou Dia of Radio Futurs Médias on charges of defamation and publishing false news based on a complaint by the local governor, according to local news reports. The governor objected to stories alleging malfeasance in an agricultural program. Sène and Dia were released on bail after 12 days in prison; the case was pending in late year.
Followers of Serigne Modou Kara Mbacké, a leader of Senegal’s influential Mourides Muslim Brotherhood, ransacked the offices of the independent daily Walfadjri on September 25, according to news reports. The assailants, some armed with iron bars, were apparently angered by a story critical of Mbacké. At least three staffers were reported injured. Government spokesman Moustapha Maba Guirassi condemned the attack, and Mbacké later publicly apologized. No arrests were reported.
Four female radio journalists were abducted in the eastern town of Keneima in February by a women’s group that supports female circumcision, according to local news reports. The group accused the reporters of broadcasting messages to end the practice of female circumcision. The journalists were stripped naked and forced to walk through the streets of Keneima, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists told CPJ. No action was taken against the abductors.
A court in Dar es Salaam ordered the independent weekly MwanaHalisi to pay damages of 3 billion Tanzanian shillings (US$2.25 million) in April in a civil defamation lawsuit filed by a member of parliament, according to news reports. Rostam Aziz objected to a MwanaHalisi report linking him to a U.S. company accused of corrupt dealings with the government, according to local journalists. Justice Robert Makramba also ordered MwanaHalisi to issue a front-page public apology, halt reporting on the plaintiff, and cover all court costs, according to court documents. The weekly appealed.