Ivorian State Prosecutor Raymond Tchimou, who summoned staffers from the private daily Le Nouveau Courrier—Managing Editor Stéphane Guédé, News Editor Théophile Kouamouo, and Editor-in-Chief Saint-Claver Oula—on Tuesday morning, accused the journalists of stealing confidential documents, defense lawyer Désiré Gueu told CPJ. Tuesday’s edition of Le Nouveau Courrier carried a front-page story that detailed the results of a 137-page report by the public prosecutor’s office on 23 industry figures charged with corruption in an ongoing investigation ordered by President Laurent Gbagbo in 2007.
A dozen police officers raided the newspaper’s office on Tuesday afternoon looking for the leaked report. They searched computers and seized Oula’s laptop, Le Nouveau Courrier reporter Frank Toti told CPJ.
“We call on the Ivorian authorities to respect the law that bans pretrial detentions of journalists,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Arresting journalists for refusing to name their confidential sources only undermines a vital public service—investigative journalism. We call on State Prosecutor Raymond Tchimou to release our colleagues immediately.”
Kouamouo, a French citizen of Cameroonian descent, had announced the publication of Tuesday’s story as part of a five-part series on his blog and Twitter account. Kouamouo, whose pioneering blogging in Ivory Coast has been supported by Global Voices’ Rising Voices initiative, has drawn worldwide support from online friends and supporters. As of Thursday, more than 150 signatures have been collected in an online petition for his release.
Ivory Coast’s 2004 press law banned pre-trial detention of journalists, but this is the second time Tchimou has summoned and arrested journalists for independent coverage of sensitive issues, according to CPJ research.
Journalist Guy-André Keiffer has been missing since his kidnapping in Ivory Coast in 2004 while investigating corruption into the cocoa industry. The country produces 40 percent of the world’s cocoa crop and is a leading producer of coffee, according to U.S. State Department statistics.