Ivorians detained without charge; torture reported

New York, February 7, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the well-being of two Ivorian journalists who have been detained without charge for 10 days amid reports that they have been tortured in custody.

Aboubacar Sanogo and Yayoro Charles Lopez Kangbé have been held by the Ivorian military police in Abidjan since January 28, according to local journalists and news reports. The journalists have been described as “rebels” by newspapers supporting Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president who has contested November election results that showed him as losing.

Authorities have disclosed no formal charges against the two journalists, and have provided no description or evidence of alleged wrongdoing. No court proceedings have been held or scheduled. The Ivorian constitution prohibits detention without charge beyond 48 hours, according to Ivorian legal experts.

Local journalists said Sanogo and Kangbé produced programs for TV Notre Patrie, a station controlled by Forces Nouvelles rebels who have controlled the north since the outbreak of a civil war that split the country in 2002. Based in the northern city of Bouaké, the station airs news and programs on a frequency of the government-controlled national broadcaster Radiodiffusion-Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI), local journalists told CPJ. Although the station does not have a broadcast license from the government-controlled broadcast regulator, its journalists have interviewed several officials of the Gbagbo government and covered their visits in the Bouaké area, Bouaké journalist Ladji Abou Sanogo told CPJ.

Sanogo and Kangbé were headed to the Golf hotel in Abidjan, the besieged headquarters of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, for interviews when they were picked up by security forces loyal to Gbagbo, according to news reports. Kenneth Blackman, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, told local news media that Sanogo and Kangbé were journalists who had flown aboard a U.N. aircraft from Bouaké to Abidjan prior to their arrests.

Brahima Coulibaly, a lawyer defending the journalists, told local media that Sanogo and Kangbé had been beaten with rifle butts and burned with cigarettes while in custody. Idrissa Navoun Soro, another defense lawyer, confirmed those accounts of mistreatment in an interview with CPJ. While police seized broadcasting equipment from the two journalists, the lawyers noted, they did not seize weapons or any evidence of rebel activity.

In response to the allegations of torture, military police spokesman Capt. Ange Nouko told CPJ today that “I am not aware of anything.” Gbagbo’s communications minister, Ouattara Gnonzié, did not respond to CPJ’s repeated calls for comment.

“By detaining journalists Aboubacar Sanogo and Yayoro Charles Lopez Kangbé without due process, the Gbagbo government is violating the Ivorian constitution it is swearing to uphold in public,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on the administration of President Laurent Gbagbo to release these journalists, to halt mistreatment of them, and to investigate and bring to justice all those responsible for the reported abuse.”

Gbagbo has disputed the results of the November 2010 presidential runoff that showed Ouattara as the clear victor. Those results have been backed by the United Nations and the international community, although the Ivorian Constitutional Court declared Gbagbo as the winner. The Gbagbo government has justified its continued legitimacy by invoking its adherence to the Ivorian constitution, according to CPJ research.

CPJ is also concerned about the status and whereabouts of Wohi Douti and Traoré Salam, two RTI technicians detained on January 5. Gnonzié told CPJ in January that authorities had arrested the two on accusations of “sabotaging” station property. He said one of them had been released but would not identify that person. No formal charges have been filed against the two.