Gbagbo forces block pro-Ouattara papers in Ivory Coast

New York, March 14, 2011Security forces loyal to Ivorian ruler Laurent Gbagbo blocked distribution on Friday of pro-opposition newspapers reporting on the African Union’s decision to confirm its recognition of rival Alassane Ouattara as president. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the obstruction and calls on authorities to halt further censorship.

Before dawn on Friday morning, agents loyal to Ggabgo raided the facilities of the country’s sole newspaper distributor, a local affiliate of France-based Edipresse, in the Adjamé district of Abidjan, according to news reports and local journalists. Blocking all exits, the agents told the distributor it could not sell any newspapers aligned with Ouattara’s RHDP party, according to the same sources.

In response, vendors refused to distribute any newspapers at all, including those aligned with Gbagbo; no newspapers were distributed in bulk on Friday and Saturday, according to a joint statement released by eight pro-Ouattara newspapers. “

Gbagbo security forces withdrew their blockade on the distributor on Sunday evening, and newspapers were back on the streets today, Amédée Assi, vice president of the Group of Press Editors of Ivory Coast, told CPJ today. The Gbagbo-controlled National Press Council, the official print media regulator, announced the lifting of the blockade on Saturday, according to news reports. The council warned journalists against “excesses that can undermine social cohesion.”

“We welcome the lifting of the blockade of newspapers close to Alassane Ouattara,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator. “We call on Gbagbo’s administration to halt political censorship of pro-Ouattara news outlets on the pretext of media regulation or public order.”

Gbagbo has dismissed UN-backed results of the November 2010 presidential runoff declaring Ouattara the winner of the elections. An increasingly bloody political and military struggle between Gbagbo, who retains control of security forces, and Ouattara, backed by rebels and UN peacekeepers, is threatening to push the cocoa-rich West African nation back into civil war.