The three defendants handcuffed in court prior to their release. (AFP/Issouf Sanogo)
The three defendants handcuffed in court prior to their release. (AFP/Issouf Sanogo)

Judge issues fine, suspension in leaked document case

New York, July 27, 2010—An Ivorian judge on Monday ordered the release of three journalists who had been jailed for a story citing a leaked official document, but he imposed a fine and suspension on their newspaper, according to local journalists and news reports

Managing Editor Stéphane Guédé, News Editor Théophile Kouamouo, and Editor-in-Chief Saint-Claver Oula of the daily Le Nouveau Courrier were released today from the Arrests and Corrections House (MACA) in Abidjan after 13 days in state custody, according to local journalists. In a July 13 story, the paper cited the contents of a prosecutor’s confidential investigative report detailing corruption in Ivory Coast’s cocoa export industry.

On Monday, a magistrate acquitted the three journalists on two of three counts, the penal code offenses of theft and disclosure of administrative documents, defense lawyer Désiré Gueu told CPJ. He said the three were found guilty of disclosing confidential judicial information, an offense under the 2004 press law.

The judge fined the paper 5 million CFA francs (US$9,800) and ordered it not to publish for 15 days, the lawyer said. No decision has been made on whether to appeal, Gueu said.

We are relieved that our colleagues have at last been released but note that they should never have been detained in the first place,” said Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We are also disturbed by the fine and suspension imposed on their newspaper for citing prosecution documents. We urge the government to reform that section of the press law which makes such publication an offense. We fear its existence and this ruling will have a chilling effect on investigative journalism in the country.”