Reporters Without Borders wrote to President Alassane Ouattara today asking him to help obtain the provisional release of Hermann Aboa, a journalist with state-owned Radio-Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI) who has been detained since 21 July. The organization is worried about the conditions in which Aboa has been held since his transfer to Abidjan’s main prison. The text of the letter follows:
President Alassane Ouattara
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
Paris, 6 September 2011
Dear President Ouattara,
The international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders would like to reiterate the appeal it already made to you for the release of Hermann Aboa, a journalist with Radio-Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI) who has been held since 21 July.
As you know, Mr. Aboa used to host the discussion programme “Reasons of State” on La Première (now renamed RTI 1). He is facing a possible life sentence on several charges – threatening the nation’s defences, attacking and conspiring against state authorities, undermining national territorial integrity, participating in an armed band, participating in an insurrectional movement and attacking public order.
During the post-election crisis, “Reasons of State” served as a forum in which arguments in support of President Laurent Gbagbo’s continuation in office were repeatedly presented, often in the most virulent manner. But Mr. Aboa thinks he was just doing his job as a journalist. If he is being prosecuted because of his journalist activities, he should be charged under the 2004 press law, which decriminalized media offences. This means he should not be in prison.
After initially being held at the Agban gendarmerie barracks, he was transferred to Abidjan’s main prison. There he is sharing a cell with two other inmates in Building C, where the most dangerous criminals are held. He is allowed visits by his family and his lawyer, but not visits by friends or foreigners who would like to see him. Proposed visits have to be approved by prosecutor’s office.
He has asked the prison’s authorities to transfer him to the building for detainees of “similar status,” where conditions would be better, but they have not approved his request.
Meanwhile the possibility of provisional release is blocked by the requirement that a detainee should first be interrogated on the substance of the case against him and Mr. Aboa has not been questioned since he was placed in pre-trial detention.
Not only do we fail to understand why the Ivorian authorities refuse to grant him a provisional release, but we are also concerned that he has been subjected to harsher conditions since his transfer to the main Abidjan prison.
At a time when the Côte d'Ivoire Republican Forces (FRCI) are in the process of lifting their siege on the daily Notre Voie, raising hopes that the harassment of opposition media is ending, we urge you to affirm you status as guarantor of Côte d'Ivoire’s 2004 law on freedom of expression. You would send a strong and reassuring signal if you were to ensure that Mr. Aboa were questioned on the substance of the charges as soon as possible, thereby facilitating his provisional release.
We look forward to a favourable response to this request.