In Ivory Coast, Gbabgo and Ouattara camps attack press

New York, March 28, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns ongoing attacks, threats, and intimidation against journalists and news outlets covering the bloody political standoff in Ivory Coast. The government and supporters of incumbent ruler Laurent Gbagbo have been targeting newspapers critical of Gbagbo while rebel fighters backing his U.N.-backed rival Alassane Ouattara have also harassed journalists. 

“We are alarmed by the growing number of attacks, threats, intimidation and kidnapping attempts of journalists and news outlets based on perceived political partisanship,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on all sides to allow the press to do its job.”

Armed pro-Gbagbo youths in military uniforms set fire to Téré FM, a community radio station in the Adjamé district of Abidjan, on March 16, according to CPJ interviews. Téré FM Director Mahmoud Tangara told CPJ the station did not cover politics and had been broadcasting only public service announcements by the Red Cross since mid-February. The station’s owner, Youssouf Sylla, a local official, told CPJ he believed the attack was motivated by his political support for Ouattara. Security forces in a police station adjacent to the station did not intervene to stop the attack, according to Tangara.

On March 15, security forces loyal to Gbagbo surrounded the offices of the pro-Ouattara daily L’Intelligent d’Abidjan, preventing the publication of that day’s edition, according to news reports. The same day, four armed rebel fighters seized at gunpoint a vehicle belonging to the Olympe media group, publisher of private newspapers Soir Info and L’inter and the magazine Star, according to local journalists.

Also in Abidjan, armed men stormed the offices of the pro-Ouattara daily Nord-Sud on March 13 to conduct what they called a raid in search of weapons, according to local journalists. The gunmen found no weapons, Deputy Editorial Director Choilio Diomandé told CPJ. Nord-Sud journalists have reported to CPJ threats and intimidation following the February 22 kidnapping of newspaper driver Ouattara Yacouba, according to the same sources. Yacouba remains unaccounted for since he was seized by armed and hooded men wearing police armbands as he left the newspaper’s offices, according to local journalists and news reports.

Some journalists have gone into hiding after receiving threats. Photojournalist Stéphane Goué, a leader of the Ivorian Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CIPJ), went into hiding this month after receiving threats related to his public statements about restrictions to press freedom, according to CPJ interviews. The Media Foundation of West Africa reported that prominent journalist André Silver Konan, a Gbagbo critic, went into hiding after a March 8 kidnapping attempt by pro-Gbagbo youths.

General insecurity is also endangering journalists. Since mid-month, senior reporter Alexandre Lebel Ilboudo of pro-Ouattara daily Le Patriote and online journalist Koné Souleymane had their homes attacked by rebel fighters backing Ouattara; the attacks were perceived as part of general criminal activity among rebels that is unrelated to journalism. CIPJ reported that unidentified Gbagbo supporters looted and burned the residence of freelance journalist David Karidioula on March 6. Karidioula’s profession and his ethnic background which is associated with Ouattara supporters, made him a target even though he works for the pro-Gbagbo newspaper Le Quotidien, Goué told CIPJ.