New York, December 14, 2011–The government of Ivory Coast should immediately lift its suspensions on the circulations of three newspapers that published critical commentaries on the country’s five-month post-election conflict and its aftermath, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On December 5, the Ivorian state-run national media regulatory agency, the National Press Council (CNP), suspended the dailies Aujourd’hui and Le Temps, favorable to deposed leader Laurent Gbagbo, and the daily Le Mandat, favorable to President Alassane Ouattara, for periods ranging from six days to 26 days, local journalists told CPJ. Aujourd’hui editor Joseph Titi was also suspended from practicing journalism for three months, news reports said. The newspapers had run commentaries criticizing the Ivorian government, local journalists said.
“Airing political opinions and harsh criticism of officials and public figures are not crimes in a democracy,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on Ivorian authorities to lift the suspensions on Aujourd’hui, Le Mandat, and Le Temps and allow editor Joseph Titi to resume his journalistic work.”
The CNP suspended Aujourd’hui for 26 editions and banned editor Titi from practicing journalism for three months over critical articles that ran in three editions in November. The council said the paper “manipulate[ed] information” in a November 1 commentary suggesting that some pro-Ouattara women who led an anti-Gbagbo protest that was dispersed by security forces in March staged their own deaths. At least seven women were killed after pro-Gbagbo forces opened fire on the marchers, according to news reports.
The CNP also accused Aujourd’hui of reporting information of an “intolerable subversive nature” in a November 25 story on Gbagbo supporters in France celebrating his decision to reject U.N.-certified presidential election results declaring Ouattara the winner. In addition, the CNP accused the paper of “inciting violence” in an op-ed that ridiculed the Ouattara government’s dismissal of reports of an imminent currency devaluation, and a commentary calling the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Ivory Coast Bert Koenders “ridiculous” and the grandson of slave holders.
Le Temps was suspended for 12 days over four articles published between November 30 and December 2, according to a copy of the decision. The CNP accused the paper of issuing “grave accusations of corruption” and “intolerable offense and outrage” against Youssouf Bakayoko, the former electoral commission chief, in an editorial raising questions about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s influence on Bakayoko. Sarkozy had written a letter to Bakayoko, encouraging him to “quickly” announce the election results showing Ouattara the winner, news reports said. The council also accused Le Temps of offending public officials over a column calling Ouattara “an imposter” and describing Prime Minister Guillaume Soro as “bloodthirsty.”
The CNP imposed a six-day suspension on pro-Ouattara paper Le Mandat over four photo montages, published in its November 30 and December 1 editions, that mocked Gbagbo’s imprisonment and transfer to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, according to a copy of the decision. The council called the montages “grotesque” and the photographs “degrading,” and said they “constituted an intolerable attack on [Gbagbo’s] dignity.”
The Ivorian government has used this form of repression before. In August, Le Temps was suspended for reprinting an opinion column criticizing a meeting between Ouattara and U.S. President Barack Obama.