Africa cases 2003: Country List    I   Africa Regional Home Page
How CPJ investigates and classifies attacks on the press

Kloueu Gonzreu, Agence Ivoirienne de Presse

The body of Gonzreu, 51, a regional correspondent for the state-run news wire service Agence Ivoirienne de Presse, was found and identified on March 19 by a team from the Red Cross, where the journalist worked in his spare time.

Gonzreu's remains were discovered near Toulepleu, a town on the border with Liberia, where Liberian mercenaries employed by the Ivoirian government reportedly kidnapped the journalist on January 11. Gonzreu disappeared less than two weeks after Notre Pays, a pro-government publication, had listed him among suspected rebels. Notre Pays accused Gonzreu of "voicing sympathy for the rebellion" in his reports.

Liberian mercenaries have been fighting on both sides of the Ivoirian civil war, which began in September 2002 after disgruntled soldiers from the country's Muslim north attempted and failed to topple the government. The government has the support of southern Christian and animist populations.

JANUARY 6, 2003

Ann Boher, Reuters

Boher, a journalist for Reuters news agency, was arrested by government forces in San Pedro, Ivory Coast's second-largest port city. She was brought to the capital, Abdijan, for questioning and detained overnight.

The state-run Radiodiffusion Télévision Ivoirienne accused Boher of being a spy for the Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement, the main rebel group fighting the government of President Laurent Gbagbo. The station said that troops had found "incriminating documents" in Boher's possession.

Sources at Reuters told CPJ that the documents in question included a standard Reuters contact list, which contained the phone numbers of Ivoirian government officials, other journalists, nongovernmental organizations, government soldiers, and rebels. It is likely that the rebel numbers prompted Boher's arrest.

The journalist was released on January 7, after the Ivoirian defense minister intervened on her behalf.

FEBRUARY 5, 2003

René Dessonh, Soir Info

Dessonh, a journalist for the private daily Soir Info, was detained by Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP) rebels near the town of Man, in the western part of the country.

The journalist was traveling to Man to cover a meeting between the three main rebel groups—the MJP, the Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement, and the Ivoirian Popular Movement of the Great West—that was scheduled for the evening of February 6. MJP rebels stopped Dessonh at a roadblock and accused him of being a spy for President Laurent Gbagbo and loyalist forces. He was taken into custody, was blindfolded, and had his hands bound.

Dessonh later said in an interview with his paper that he presented his captors with his press card, but that they refused to accept his credentials, saying he wanted to attend the meeting to hear their secrets.

On February 7, the rebels released Dessonh.

OCTOBER 21, 2003

Jean Hélène, Radio France Internationale


Hélène, correspondent for Radio France Internationale (RFI) in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, was shot by a police officer in the evening outside the national police headquarters in central Abidjan while waiting to interview detained opposition activists who were being released, according to local and international press reports. The officer was arrested immediately and the Ivoirian government promised an investigation.

After Hélène's family, RFI, and the France-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders applied in France to become civil parties in the case, a French public prosecutor began conducting an investigation into the murder. Under French law, French authorities have jurisdiction in the case because the victim was French. Although the French and Ivoirian inquiries are legally separate, officials have been cooperating.
France and Ivory Coast have a bilateral treaty on judicial cooperation dating back to Ivoirian independence.

The day Hélène was killed, he was waiting in his car in front of the headquarters when the officer walked over and asked what he was doing, according to press reports. The journalist said he was waiting to talk to opposition party members. The officer then went into the building, came back out, and fired two shots, hitting Hélène in the head and killing him instantly.

Although the motive for the killing is unknown, the assassination occurred against a background of anti-French sentiment since Ivory Coast plunged into civil war and crisis in September 2002. France has troops in the country and helped broker a peace agreement signed in Paris in January 2003. The international—and especially French—media have also come under attack from the local press since the crisis began.
Jérome Bouvier, director of RFI's French-language services, told CPJ that the climate for foreign journalists had been extremely difficult but seemed to have improved in the months before the killing. "That's what makes it even more shocking," he said. " It happened in the center of the city, in front of an official building full of people in uniform."

Hélène had been covering Africa for RFI for more than 10 years, including conflicts in Rwanda and Somalia. He was known for his rigor, independence, and calm. In one of many tributes, French President Jacques Chirac described Hélène as "a great professional who died doing his job in the service of providing information about the Africa he knew so well."

On January 22, 2004, a military court in Abidjan sentenced Ivoirian police officer Sgt. Théodore Séry Dago to 17 years in prison for Hélène's murder. The officer was also fined 500,000 CFA francs (US$960), stripped of his rank in the national police, and barred from voting or leaving his home province for 10 years. The tribunal ordered the Ivoirian State to pay 137 million CFA francs (US$263,850) in damages to Hélène's heirs.