Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is relieved to learn that the Ivorian judicial authorities yesterday (14 February) ordered the provisional release of the six mostly very senior journalists held since 12 February on charges of “publishing false news” and “inciting army personnel to insubordination and rebellion.”
RSF is nonetheless concerned that the charges have not been lifted. The six journalists are still under judicial investigation and could still be subjected to a criminal trial. RSF urges the judicial authorities to drop all the charges against them.
The six journalists, who include three newspaper publishers and an editor, are being held in cells at the gendarmerie’s Agban barracks in the Abidjan district of Williamsville. RSF is very worried by their detention, especially as media offences are decriminalized in Côte d’Ivoire.
The six detainees are Coulibaly Vamara, publisher of Soir Info and L’Inter; Yacouba Gbané, publisher of Le Temps; Bamba Franck Mamadou, publisher of Notre Voie; Hamadou Ziao, L’Inter’s editor; Ferdinand Bailly of Le Temps; and Jean Bédel Gnago, Soir Info’s correspondent in Aboisso (a town near Adiaké).
They are all charged with “publishing false news” and “inciting army personnel to insubordination and rebellion” in articles published on 10 and 11 February about payment of bonuses to the Adiaké-based special forces who staged a mutiny for more pay on 7-8 February. The government issued a statement denying the reports.
“We call on the Ivorian authorities to respect their own laws and to release these six journalists at once,” RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said. “As media offences are decriminalized in Côte d’Ivoire, journalists should not be jailed, regardless of what they report in their articles. Legal recourse is available if what they write is considered preposterous or defamatory.”
Gbané and Bailly were questioned for eight hours on 11 February at the gendarmerie’s department of investigations on prosecutor-general Richard Christophe Adou’s orders, and were asked to name their sources within the special forces and defence ministry.
The other journalists were summoned for questioning the next day. If convicted on these charges, they face the possibility of jail terms of one to five years and fines of 300,000 to 3 million CFA francs.
RSF points out that article 68 of Côte d’Ivoire’s press law clearly states that “the penalty of imprisonment is excluded for press offences.” Only the National Press Council (CNP), which regulates the media, has the power to impose penalties on journalists for violations.
This is the third time since Alassane Ouattara became president that journalists have been arbitrarily detained for media offences. Three Notre Voie journalists – publisher César Etou, assistant editor Didier Dépri and chief political correspondent Boga Sivori – were arrested in November 2011 and were held for 13 days before being tried and acquitted.