May 26, 2016

Increased harassment of journalists in Côte d’Ivoire

March in Abidjan during 2016 World Press Freedom Day - SIA KAMBOU / AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the arbitrary detention of Koaci news website editor Laurent Despas and one of his reporters, Donatien Kautcha, who were freed on 25 May after being held overnight, and urges the authorities to use the press law rather than the penal code in the case they are bringing against Despas.

Arrested on the afternoon of 24 May, Despas and Kautcha were held at the headquarters of the gendarmerie in Agban, in the centre of Abidjan, without being allowed access to a lawyer. Both were released yesterday but, before being freed, Despas was taken before the prosecutor’s office, where he was charged with “spreading false reports” under article 173 of the penal code.

According to the information available, their arrests and the charge against Despas were prompted by an article in early May about the existence of political prisoners in Côte d’Ivoire. It was based on an interview with former President Laurent Gbagbo’s son, Michel Gbagbo, who was himself summoned for questioning yesterday at the headquarters of the DST intelligence agency.

“We are disturbed by these proceedings against a media representative who simply reported an interview and, furthermore, presented the views of both sides,” RSF said. “We urge the authorities to respect the work of journalists by trying this case under the press law and not the penal code.”

Under article 173 of the penal code, “publishing, disseminating, divulging or reproducing false reports or documents that are fabricated, forged or mendaciously attributed to other persons” is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine. The press law does not provide for prison sentences for this type of offence.

Côte d’Ivoire is ranked 86th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.